Read the Editor’s foreword on what you can expect in this issue.

Editor, James Buckley.


It’s a sad period for wargame magazines with the news that Modern War magazine – a sister publication to the more famous Strategy & Tactics – has now ceased publication. As someone who really enjoys modern conflict simulations I was a happy subscriber, and indeed my favourite wargame so far of this year – World War Africa – was released early this year in MW, and is reviewed in this issue of Punched.

I’m becoming ever more interested in magazine wargames. They often cover the less beaten path, and by their nature tend to be less complex and of lower counter density than big box games (a good thing, in my mind). Also importantly for me given the lack of shelf space in my stuffy London flat, I can fit five magazine zip lock games in the space that one larger production takes up.

The flip side is the games typically have much less time spent on design, play-testing and production, which can result in a fair number of duds and/or mountains of errata. Worth it though, I believe, for when something like World War Africa comes along.

So farewell Modern War magazine. It wasn’t in anyway modern in terms of graphic design, layout, or accessibility (probably a factor in it’s demise), but it sure produced some good games, and will be missed.

On to issue #3 of the thoroughly modern Punched magazine.

Whenever I leave my flat to go gaming I always ensure I take a couple of compact games with me, they can often be more enjoyable to play than the bigger games they accompany.

Wargame publishers are cottoning on to this, and the volume quality of compact games being released is on a positive upwards trend. To that end, the theme this issue is compact war games – from Table Battles and 13 Days to five of the best from compact game masters Bonsai Games, by the end of this issue you’ll have no excuse not to have a decent, quick-playing game to hand just when required.

We also interview Florent Coupeau to find out more about what’s happening with his games company Nuts! Publishing, a purveyor of some beautiful war games, and feature a very interesting historical overview from Riccardo Masini on the political life of Napoleon and the games you can pick up that simulate that. And of course we have in-depth and shorter reviews of games that I believe you will find interesting.

My thanks to Riccardo, Charles Vasey, Paul Williams, Scott Moore for their contributions. All the contributors work for free, and they put in a lot of time and effort to help me with the magazine. Thanks also to Ciotog Creative for the artwork for this issue. .

As ever, I very much welcome any feedback on how we can improve our magazine. Email me with suggestions. The magazine is currently neither quite a blog, nor a ‘proper’ magazine. Does it work? I’m still not sure.

I’m eager to continue to grow it. To that end you may notice I’ve managed to attract a bit of advertising in this issue. If you would like to advertise in future issues please let me know. Also, any reader donation towards my hosting and production costs is very welcome, however small. You can make a donation here.

Finally, and saving the most exciting news until last, Punched is teaming up with Second Chance Games, the top retailer of war games in the UK, to establish PunchedCON, an annual UK war and strategy board gaming convention. Our provision date for the inaugural event is 13th to 15th of May 2022. We are talking with a hotel in the Midlands with a very large conference space and hope to finalise the details shortly.

We aim to run a range of events at PunchedCON, including demos and play-tests, tournaments, and prize draws. We want this to become one of Europe’s biggest and best conventions for war and strategy board gamers!

Hold the date for now – and keep a look out on the websites and social media channels of Cardboard Emperors and Second Chance Games for more announcements.

Happy gaming! 

James – Autumn 2021

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HOLD THE DATE! 13th-15th MAY 2022

PunchedCON is coming!

Rocket flies through the clouds on moonlight 3d illustration.

Long the domain of lighter euro, thematic and party games, squeezing a historical conflict simulation into a smaller box with very manageable playtime is increasingly attracting the interest of wargaming publishers. But are they any good?


We play war games not just for fun but also for the historical simulation, to replay ‘what ifs’. To get there requires the game to provide some fidelity to the complexities of the military or political conflict being simulated, even allowing for a generous helping of abstraction. While the hundreds of hours play time for The Campaign for North Africa or Vietnam 1965-75 may take this to the extreme, can boiling the experience down to under an hour with a handful of components and a few pages of rules ever really provide that historical learning experience?

I’m going to go out on a limb here having immersed myself in compact war games for several months now and say… no. With convenience comes too much compromise in the simulation space. What such games can do is offer a broad perspective of some of the key decisions leaders faced. And probably more importantly, given this is a leisure pastime, the best of them compete with peer euro, fantasy, sci-fi themed games for gaming enjoyment.

This does not mean I would rather play several of the best compact games in a row then a single game from the Campaign Commander series, warts and all (see review below). I’d rather have the full immersion of a longer, heavier game. But I still keep on picking up compact war games. In-between the heavier games, while waiting for a gaming partner who has been held up at work, at the end of the evening at a gaming convention, these are the games I can or want to play. A healthily stacked shelf of compact games is for me essential.

I call them ‘compact’ games as the dictionary definition – “having all the necessary components or features neatly fitted into a small space” – perfectly sums up what’s great about the best of them. Other marketing terms include ‘Lunchtime games’, ‘Lunchbox games’, ‘Gateway games’. Generally, they play in around an hour or less. Boxed they have a lighter footprint on your shelf and, decanted, on your table. Pricewise you shouldn’t be paying much more than £20 ($30) for them.

Elsewhere in this issue we cover off games that meet these criteria in our overviews of Bonsai Games (the masters at getting compact games done right) and the Decision Games Mini Games Series. These aside, here are five other compact games I think you should be considering if you are looking at expanding your library of pocket rockets.

Table Battles (Hollandspiele 2018)

Eschewing maps, counters, or artwork, Table Battles is a proudly austere game that, unnecessarily large box aside, is the epitome of a compact war game. 50 cards, an array of coloured wooden sticks, some cubes, and 12 dice. That’s all a busy gamer needs to battle through eight historic battles covered in the game, from Bosworth and the War of the Roses in 1485 to Brooklyn Heights and the American revolution in 1776. An advertised playing time of 20 minutes seems ludicrously ambitious but even the bigger scenarios can be wrapped up in around 45 minutes.

Cards and wooden pieces on the table for battle.
Form a line: The Battle of Bosworth scenario from Table Battles

Depending on the scenario each player will receive formation cards, representing divisions, armies and so forth as relevant to the battle. The cards present a miscellany of information. First, the strength of the formation. This is tracked by coloured wooden sticks placed in front of the cards. These aren’t necessary but give the game a notable aesthetic. Next is the type of dice from the pool that can be placed on the card to allow it to be used for an attack or reaction: a single 5, doubles of any kind, and so on. Next, which opposing formation can be attacked, and the impact an attack will have on it. Finally, the type of reaction the formation can make, if any, and again against which opposing formation. On your turn you take an action using dice assigned to a formation on a previous turn, then re-roll your dice pool and assign for the following turn.

The game is interesting and unconventional. If you can react you must, and that uses up your action on your turn. The result in rhythmic cycles of play. You look to force a reaction from an opponent to prevent them building up their own play, place your dice to allow you to undertake the same action again, and slowly eke out a point of damage here or there if they don’t get the dice they need to react, or they decide to break the cycle, leaving them open to attack.

Whether you enjoy the gradual ebb and flow of such cycles is critical to your overall enjoyment. There’s reward as you outthink an opponent through a sudden switch up in dice allocation. But it can also be repetitive and dicey, especially by the end game. So a try before you buy I think, but with eight scenarios it’s good value if you do enjoy the system.

Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis, 1860-61 (GMT Games 2018)

If the dice leave you cold there’s the smart card play of Fort Sumter, an American Civil War-themed card driven game (CDG) from Mark Herman where you jockey for influence, power and access to arms on behalf of the Unionist or Secessionist states prior to the opening of hostilities. The goal: have the most reach across each of four “crisis dimensions” by the opening of the first Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861. This means have more cubes than your opponent across the 12 Political, Secession, Public Opinion, or Armaments spaces on the board. Area control at the end of each turn equates to victory points. Controlling key areas of each dimension provides further boosts.

Cubes from your pool are added or removed by card events or operations points. The more cubes you commit, the deeper you sink into four years of slaughter. How and where you commit will be determined by the cards you draw, and your hidden objectives. You can score an opponent’s objective, adding a bit of deduction and bluff into the mix.

The mechanics share similarities with my (spoiler alert!) favourite compact game 13 Days. But where the threat of DEFCON track Armageddon governs your every move in 13 Days, in Fort Sumter the tension is more Huckleberry Finn. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you’ll lose. At worst you have only lost 30 minutes of your life, and at best you have bluffed and outwitted your opponent a few times along the way.

The game has a nice digital implementation by PlayDek (makers of the Twilight Struggle app) that should be tried if nothing else for the Ken Burn’s inspired musical background.

Fort Sumter, nicely adapted for online play with Playdek.
Fort Sumter on the Playdek app – it has a nice riff  

Santa Cruz 1797 (Bellica 3rd Generation 2017)

Looking for more theme? Look to Santa Cruz 1797. It’s 22nd July, 1797. Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson launches a daring amphibious assault on the dastardly Spaniard in the port of Santa Cruz on Tenerife. The objective: interdict Spanish trade from the Americas by taking control of this key port. The challenge: land and overcome a well garrisoned town with three coastal fortresses spewing deadly cannon shot at your craft. Oh, and you might get dragged off course by a strong tide. And it’s the middle of the night.

Blocks keep your opponent in the fog of war.
Santa Cruz 1797: British marines and sailors launch landing craft in the face of cannonade

A fog of war block war game, the narrative drags you with it like the tide. As the British launch their landing craft, each sea zone they pass through runs the risk of strong currents pushing them off course to the southern tip of the town. A 16 strong landing force becomes pockets of two to five in different sea zones as the tide rips through. Meanwhile playing a cannon card – for this is a card driven game – allows the Spanish player to target each British unit in a sea zone with cannon fire. Whole British units may get wiped out before the make it to shore. Having landed, it becomes a game of assault and counter assault. Can the weaker Spanish forces bottle up the British units at key choke points on the map? Can the British forces take and control the key fortresses without spreading themselves too thinly? Just how strong are the units defending the San Cristóbal castle? The clock is ticking, and the emphasis is on the Redcoats to attack.

The game is tactical, and immersive. The artwork is enticing, but the graphic design choices are a bit problematic; the images and symbols on the cards require constant reference to the rule book to interpret for the first few plays. Battles can involve a lot of dice-rolling, waiting for someone to get more of those elusive 5s or 6s to score a hit. Don’t be surprised if collectively you are rolling more than 50 dice to resolve a battle. But when one of those dice represents the cannon shot that deprived Nelson of his right arm it will all seem worth it, for the dastardly Spaniard at least.

The Cousins’ War (Second Edition) (Surprised Stare Games 2017)

Want to do more with less dice, The Cousins’ War could be for you. It combines typical CDG and area control mechanics with a ‘liar’s dice’ approach to combat resolution. Like a maple syrup and bacon, it’s a pairing sickly on paper but sweet in practice.

The game charts the progress of the houses of York and Lancaster as they battle over 30 years for the English crown. It’s more famously known as the Wars of the Roses, but was initially called the Cousins’ War on account of the familial relationship of protagonists Henry IV and Richard II.

Cousins features ver nice map of England and Wales.
Small map, lot of game in The Cousins’ War

Players play a hand of five cards used for action points or events. These allow them to place or remove influence/military from their supply or reserve to one of three locations on the very small board illustrating a three-region map of England, or a nearby battlefield card. Once the hand is down to one card each, play moves to the battlefield. This is a card brought into play at start of each round, representing a key battle of the period. At this point the game switches up and becomes a dice-rolling game of bluff.

The initiative player will roll three dice, keeping their roll secret, looking for doubles or triples. They tell their opponent what they have rolled. “Two 5s”. This may be a lie. If the opponent believes them the dice are removed and the opponent needs to roll higher (two 6s, or three of any kind). A triple beats a double. The loser loses two cubes (armies). Same outcome for a double against a single.

If the opponent instead wrongly calls them out – they had indeed rolled two 5s, which they reveal – the opponent loses a cube from the battlefield. If the opponent correctly calls out a lie, the active player has an opportunity to re-arrange the dice through action points on their one remaining card in hand. If they can’t do this, they lose a cube and the opponent makes their roll. If cubes remain on the battlefield for both sides after this, the initiative switches and play continues. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the use of a dice-bluff mechanic for combat resolution transforms a fairly standard area control CDG into something more memorable.

The game plays in around 30mins and there are optional event cards to spice things up a bit for more experienced players. There’s a sequel out now called The Ming Voyages. It’s prettier and more thematic with very asymmetric factions, but does away with the liars’ dice and lacks the thrill of The Cousins’ War.

A dinky little map for Ming.
Barbarians at the gate in The Ming Voyages

13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis (Jolly Roger Games 2016)

Finally, and saving the best until last, we have 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. If you haven’t played Twilight Struggle stop reading this. Curse your poor life choices. Play a game of it, then return back to finish reading this review… Now you are back, or if you never left, let’s recall the details of card #40: CUBAN MISSLE CRISIS. “Set DEFCON to Level 2. Blah blah blah… will result in Global Thermonuclear War… Blah blah blah… cancel if the USSR removes 2 Influence from Cuba…”

Now imagine what a short CDG built around that card would play like. That’s 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s my top recommendation for a compact war game. Not only does it marry all the great aspects of Twilight Struggle – the art of hand management and making painful choices, bluff and timing, historic integration and theme – into a tight package that lasts just 45 minutes, but it actually manages to up the intensity!

In one of many concepts borrowed from Twilight Struggle, the game has a DEFCON track that, if mis-managed, can lead to nuclear Armageddon and worse, losing the game. While it is fairly straight forward to manage the single DEFCON track in Twilight Struggle, in 13 Days there are three different DEFCON tracks to be managed, they go up and down like a yo-yo, and half the time you will fail.

The tension of the Cuban missile crisis.
13 Days – The three DEFCON tracks on the right are not your friend. They hate you.

That’s because each turn you choose a secret objective that both you and your opponent can score against (controlling World Opinion, for example), and then play cards or events to place or remove influence cubes in relevant board areas. Placing influence represents an upping of the ante, and so raises DEFCON. You can push this for a time, but you then need to start reining it back in, as DEFCON also naturally increases at the start of each turn, and due to certain events or scoring objectives.

But to rein it in you need to reduce your influence on the board. Done poorly means you can’t score your objectives. It’s a proper tightrope. First time players will typically overplay it, and the game will end early. Better luck next time. Unlucky world.

Convinced? There’s a good implementation on Vassal if you want to try before you buy. It really is the joy of Twilight Struggle packed into less than an hour, on a board space you could play on a train.

On the radar

If the above options leave you cold, or hungry for more, there’s three games due to be released by GMT over the next 12 months (though P500 release schedule ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) to watch out for.

First up, speaking of Twilight Struggle, there is a mini ‘official’ Twilight Struggle coming from one of its co-designers Jason Matthews. Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa follows the overthrow of staunch US ally Emperor Haile Selassie by a Marxist coalition in 1974. It has the same mechanics as its parent, so not much more need be said.

Red Flag Over Paris by Fred Serval takes the base system of Fort Sumter and gives it some Gallic va-va-voom, moving the setting to the rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the rebellion against the French Establishment in Versailles. It ups the ante in the ‘tough decisions’ space, and will come with a solitaire variant.

Finally, there’s Flash Point: South China Sea. This is probably the game I’m most excited about as it covers a very timely theme – the modern day geo-political battle between China and the USA over the disputed South China Sea region. The game requires players to use political, economic, and military resources to achieve their goals through diplomatic rather than full-scale military means. People that have played it are all very positive, and GMT is now working on a follow-up using the same system set, er, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Flash Point: South China Sea
Flash Point: South China Sea 

Decision Games Mini Games Series

Mini-games without minis from Decision Games.

Mini adventures on a budget

Decision Games’ Mini Games Series provides value for money and the chance to experience the full gamut of historical conflicts, just be prepared for some house-ruling


“Minutes to learn. Quick to play. Historically accurate.” That’s the promise of the 36 games released to date by Decision Games under its Mini Game Series. I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of all the games, ranging as they do from Caesar’s campaign in Gaul through to Vietnam, and pretty much everything in between, but I agree they can be learnt in about 15 minutes and played in under an hour.

There’s a few of reasons beyond learn time and game length to check out the series. The first is the price. Games in the system retail at a mere £13 ($15). The second is subject matter, which not only covers the usual fare of Napoleon and the American Civil War, but also some much more esoteric and (to my mind) interesting subjects: Britain in Afghanistan (1842 edition); the re-unification of Hawaii; Lawrence of Arabia; the Long Range Desert Group; the Suez Crisis; the civil war in Angola. The list goes on. The third is that all of them are solo friendly, and some are specifically solitaire games. The fourth is practicality. All the games come in a small zip lock bag that you can transport as easily as a diary. The game board map is always 11” by 17”. There are always 40 counters, a small deck of small cards, and a rules sheet no more than eight pages long (usually less).

Decision Games is most known for magazine games. The Mini Game Series was started in 2012 as part of a push into introductory level and low complexity games. “We wanted to target gamers new to wargaming or making a crossover from other board game genres”, says Christopher ‘Doc’ Cummins, head of Decision Games. “In particular we wanted to introduce a low price point to make these game lines easily affordable to the younger audience we were encountering at game conventions.”

The most popular in the series have been a solitaire game on the Viking invasions Vikings: Scourge of the North, two Ancients-themed games on Caesar in Gaul and the Roman reconquest of Africa (Belisarius’s War), and Congo Merc, another solitaire game this time putting you in charge of a task force of mercenaries in the 1960s Congo.

Most of the games are point-to-point CDGs, though those involving air wars (MiG Alley or the Battle of Britain for example) use a grid system. Each side’s cards will typically follow a sequence beginning with an event, then recruitment instructions and unit-specific movement allowance. Movement that ends with opposing units in the same space leads to combat. This is short and simple with an initiative roll and offensive or defensive DRMs for Leaders, elite units or those in fortresses or favourable terrain. On a D6 a 5 will usually result in a panic and a 6 an elimination. Typically, there will be a belligerent that always goes first each turn and wins the game by gaining or maintaining control of various key locations. The solitaire system works similarly, and can be easily tweaked to allow for two player games.

In terms of quality, perhaps unsurprisingly given the price point and number of releases, we are looking at a mixed bag. The average BGG rating is around 6.3, which I think is fair looking across the sample I have played. The best of the games can be really quite good, the worst of them can lack excitement, decision-making or balance. The latter is particularly an issue if you throw in the advanced rules that most of the games come with. These can add a nice bit of chrome but usually don’t make clear who they advantage, and can strongly advantage one side. This results in a cottage industry of house rules proposed on BGG and other forums, which are generally good ideas that improve balance and playability.

The best game in the series, both in my experience and based on BGG ratings, is Campaigns of Montrose: A Year of Living Dangerously, 1644-45. This follows the swashbuckling raids and battles of the Marquis of Montrose as he took the fight to the Scottish Covenanter government during the First English Civil War. Compared to its peers this game has an extra level of detail and depth to its game play, and as a player you feel more in control of your fate. Though the map is small its layout presents a tactical challenge, particularly to the Covenanter player, as he or she must somehow box the initially stronger Royalist forces in the north to limit their points scoring opportunities, without taking excessive losses which also contribute to Royalist points.

Campaigns of Montrose - the best mini.
Campaigns of Montrose – Covenanter forces close in on the Marquis

A more typical entry from the list would be Caesar’s War: The Conquest of Gaul, 58-52 BC. The game has quite major balance issues in favour of the Romans, but these are resolved through house rules helpfully proposed on BGG (in short, don’t play any of the advanced rules). The outcome of a game is also much beholden to the cards drawn. If one side draws duds it can all be over very quickly, and that won’t be down to skill. But when it goes right the Roman player can face some decisions around who and when to attack, and with whom. Caesar is a glass cannon in this game, and you don’t want to lose him. The barbarian needs to weigh up attack vs defence, and keep the Romans on edge.

Romans on the hexes.
Caesar’s War – Roman and Celts line up for battle at Alesia

For a solitaire game I like Khe Sanh ‘68. Again, house rules published on BGG improve balance and playability, which otherwise excessively favour the US (ie you) given the overwhelming impact of US air power. A nice feature of this game is the cards – these integrate theme very well and can give the game an unexpected jolt just when you think things are going swimmingly.

Khe Sahn '68 - a good solitaire option.
Khe Sanh ‘68 – So far so good for the US and ARVN at base camp

By way of example, I was sailing along to victory when the NVA ‘Dau Tranh!’ card came out. Dau Tranh was a Vietnamese concept of combined political and military strategy. All the Communist units moved two spaces to the Khe Sanh Fire Base I was defending and got +1 to their combat for the attack. And like that my jarheads of the 26th Marine went from swinging in their hammocks to – one hopes for them – a Saigon-esque helicopter escape. The base was overrun, the Communists had won.

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Bonsai Games

Wargaming’s Fabergé Eggs

An ordinary logo.

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte” ~ Blaise Pascal

“I only made this longer because I didn’t have time to make it shorter”


We come from a hobby where a large group of players loves piling it up on the plate. There can be a positive delight in taking someone’s design and adding a load of extra maps (mounted of course), and counters, plus some additional advanced rules. I liked this before, so now I’ll like it 50% more!! In truth many a simpering podcast will celebrate this baroque supersized version and tempt a young gamer into its coils. This is, if I may go all Shakespearean on you, but

“.., to be possess’d with double pomp,

 To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet…”

But these lovers of the large are not the whole of the hobby. Let me tempt you with another way, a simpler way, a way that is smaller but full of flavour, less cluttered: it is the work of Yasushi Nakaguro the Marie Kondo of game design. Come over to the Light Side, my young Jedi.

The Bonsai line designed and published by Yasushi Nakaguro offers an excellent example of the matching of the historical topic to the appropriate simulation method without absorbing vast amounts of table space or player time. As such it goes against the trend of the £100 plus big bottomed conventional game. But it also avoids the one-mechanism History-Lite game favoured by some. Rather than just doing less with less, it seeks more with less.

The line first came to my attention in what I call a We The People tingle moment. Back in 1993 I was in the Games Centre in London when it briefly moved to Oxford Street, there was a big rather garish box  that appeared to be a game using cards and stand-up counters. Everything about it looked wrong; yet still I purchased it, because it looked to be … well …. different, it stank of innovation. It was We The People. And so, this progenitor of the CDG-style of game proved to be all that I had hoped. Fast forward to 2019 and I am reading about a fast-playing game on the Japanese War in the Pacific using just a few counters and (again) cards. I felt the same tingle.

Big topic, small game

Although the tingle was there, one had to work for one’s hobby a wee while back. Although Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (for such it was) has now been republished by MMP, back then I had to acquire it from Jack Greene in the USA and use the heroic rules translation by Nicola Saggini. However, the expenditure was well worth it for a six-turn game that covered the war from the 1939 Chinese campaign through to 1945. It would be fair to say that the rules lacked complete clarity and you should download the errata on BGG. You may also feel the need to house-rule some of the wilder features (the wandering Chinese armies for example). A small price to pay to cover so vast a topic.

Small, but colourful mapsheet.
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

The game included air, naval, carrier, land, and marine forces. It required both sides to choose the right moment to declare war and it ingeniously dealt with the differences between Chinese, Commonwealth and American forces on the Allied side. Actions were driven by a small deck of cards that were based on the kind of units one has. Combining these over a turn was an interesting mix of pre-turn guessing (as one built one’s hand), mid-term cursing as one spotted one was a marine short of a full load, and long-term pleasure at seeing one’s opponent mess it up. Although the Pacific is a big theatre the range of naval and air units rendered it open to moves of considerable distance on the map. This led to a frequent feature of the Bonsai range: permanent fear of disaster.

Given that both sides had to carefully mix naval units (surface or carrier) with marines in order to capture islands, plus benefit from the area control of air units one could often end up with (as Southwestern Trains might say) the wrong sort of unit. Of course, frequent play began to give one a grasp of optimum approaches, but dice were sent to punish hubris, and punish it they did. So intense was the play of the quick game that I refuse to play two games in a row.

So, to summarise: a short game, small footprint, intense play, a good historical feel and strong ludicity.

My full review of the game is here:


Down to a wine dark sea; singing of arms and the man

Having experienced speed, historical themes, and intense play I was interested to see Yas had designed a game on the Persian Invasion of Greece called 300. This is a topic about which I knew much more than I did about the Pacific, and a topic that I had seen a number of designers fail to gain traction. Once again one had to fight for the right to party. Yas sold me a copy of the game, I downloaded the cards and then built a set of English ones using Google Translate and my best guesses (later vastly improved by Sensei Scott Muldoon). You can now buy another version from Nuts! Publishing.

The main issue for a design on the Persian Wars is that these are asymmetric forces. The Greeks field a number of small but well-equipped (for close fighting) infantry armies. Their limits are usually logistic but given the access to the sea and their size these are not perhaps as bad as they might have been. The Persians have larger armies, with cavalry and with expert logistics which they need in order to support those numbers. Their equipment is not as effective in face-to-face combat. The old wargame way was huge armies of weedy levies up against the Greek Bronze Adonises, often in campaigns where there was one way in and one way out of the map. These were more recreations than simulations.

Enter Yas, whose game still featured much of the above but with much more nuance. Firstly, it covered five expeditions, so it was not just a one-shot wonder. Secondly, like Darius he included sea-borne expeditions which could pick off islands or prepare the way for a  couple of big expeditions. Using anonymous cubes rather than named unit counters he allowed a range of styles. The Greeks could invade Ionia for example. They could push into Thessaly and Macedonia.

The cards firmly grasped the issues of the war, which were more than just combat: religious, economic, administrative (Persian palace politics, and their bloody results, for example), diplomatic, military, and legendary. Some expeditions were pools of blood, others were smooth diplomatic passages as Greeks states medised. Although the Greeks felt superior on land and sea it only took a few dice reversals for them to hit the bottom of their manpower. Because the cards were not only well spread over key topics but had evocative titles that handled many of the issues of the various expeditions, the game achieved a historical immersion missing from other games. Both sides had strengths and weaknesses, but very different strengths and weaknesses, and one was seldom out for the count. The game also benefits from not having inherited a position based on War Of Terror comparatives whereby the Athenians appear as the West and the Persians as Al-Qaeda. It is about the Persian Wars alone.

My full review of the game is here:


Rivet heads over the Reich

I have never been much of a rivet or tread-head. Technology is not something I enjoy so air campaigns are not something I typically go for. Those games that are historical are (for me) tedious and those that are enjoyable look unhistorical. Given my woeful ignorance take anything I say in this section with a pinch of salt. Yas’s Operation Pointblank was published under Gavin Hu’s War Drum imprint.  It covers the US daylight bombing campaign of Germany of February to December 1944.

Map and counters for Operation Point Blank.
Operation Pointblank

Unlike 300 the game uses counters with factors and jolly illustrations of the relevant aircraft so hardcore gamers are at least in familiar territory. Instead of the detailed stats of many aircraft games (so you can tell a Foppington Mark 5 from one with the Hispano-Suiza engine) this one goes for the jugular. Aircraft types are rated for speed (a letter) and attack factor (a number) the faster aircraft attack (and inflict losses first), the number is the 1d6 to hit (equal or less). Typically, the faster the planes the better the hit as both platforms improve, but the Germans have some ‘specials’ that can be better or worse than this simple improving model. The poor old US bombers are the worst of the worst, but then there are a lot of them so scoring a few ones on the dice soon takes the bloom off the Luftwaffe rose. This system allows us to see over the life of the campaign where the two sides make major improvements, which in turn informs us of how we need to change operations and tactics. The Luftwaffe specials are also in small numbers: a handy way to remind us of a problem for wonder weapons.

The board shows the Reich with various factory cities marked for type and value allowing you a simple route to deciding which is better to target. Some (as an example) will have an impact on aircraft production. Some are worth more than others; others have special industries. One only has a few turns, choose wisely.

The raid system essentially comes down to the US planning which sectors to hit first, and the Luftwaffe where to defend on a sector (and then on a City basis). To my untutored eye the point defence look a bit like night-fighters whose usual role is fighting RAF Bomber Command (whose brave lads do not appear in the game) which adds a few interesting types for the historical gamer. Bad guesses can misplace one’s forces but trying to be everywhere does not work. As ever with Bonsai one makes one’s play and hopes.

So, a game about a technical subject without too much detail, but a bit of technology and a lot of goal plotting, together with, of course, the German player estimating where the USAAF will hit first and flooding that sector with fighters. Not a bad overview for a small game.

My full review of the game is here


Tout va très bien Madame La Marquise*

(*Paul Misraki’s satirical song on the Third Republic’s ability to avoid reality, made famous by Ray Ventura et ses Collégiens).

Yas’ game on the Fall of France (The Rise Of Blitzkrieg) is a return to cards and cubes, and once again the first copies in the UK were assembled by the Hobby Brains Trust (a translation here, a photo image there). This topic requires the designer to take one of the great surprises in military history and assess how difficult it will be to avoid it and/or replicate it. The map (a PTP design) covers France from the edge of the Maginot Line along the Belgian border into the Netherlands. Here the border faces three German areas (one per Army Group) whose units are hidden in wee boxes. The hinterland is Belgium back into Nord, down to Abbeville, Paris and east to Reims. There are some odd links on this map so study it carefully.

Point to point map.
The Rise of Blitzkrieg

The level of historical mystery starts with the victory conditions: originally the naughty German tank commanders sought to break through at Sedan and hit the Channel at Abbeville. This bottled up a large Allied army group and gave their own commanders conniptions. In the game the German has four victory conditions. He or she draws two, one is revealed to the opponent, the other kept secret. The remainder are out of play. The German must win by using one of the two drawn conditions. The conditions include capturing all of Belgium and Holland, capturing the Channel Ports, breaching the Maginot Line, and capturing Paris. These are sufficient to include everything from armoured breakthrough, via grabbing key terrain (close to a conventional World War One campaign) into the intricacies of storming a fortified line. A reasonable summary of the alternatives they faced.

As in 300, Yas mixes cards with cubes. The Belgians and Dutch have no cubes (they are hard baked into defensive benefits for the Allies in their areas) and the Germans have many more armoured units (discs) than the Allies, who depend on lots of infantry cubes. How the units activate and fight depends on a set of cards that represent the doctrines, equipment and style of the two sides. The German player typically selects more cards than the French (though this can change with momentum) and they tend to have more of everything. So, for example, the usual move and fight cards (Operations) have four German cards available but only two French. Air Support (which tweaks combat success) has two French versions and three Germans. There are sufficient cards (18 Germans, 14 French) to provide choice (though this can be lost as the campaign continues). The cards include many of the key areas: logistics, replacements, tactical systems (paras or tanks), key commanders, and breakthroughs. The Allies are far from beaten before they start but they fight a very different war from the Germans.

Combat is multi-dice and both sides roll but not necessarily the same number. Some of the dice one gets from cards, others from numbers of units. From a maximum of four rolled one must choose up to two. Highest scores win (and cause retreats), but doubles damage the opponent. This often means one chooses between victory (forcing a retreat) and damaging one’s enemy. The value of tanks is considerable but so are infantry cubes – just do not expect to breakthrough with the latter. Because combat is fast and not completely predictable one can find oneself running out of the cards in hand and regretting one’s choices at the beginning of the turn. Although a lot of play is German breakthroughs that need to be blocked, there is just as much Allied infantry gumming up the German attacks. All is rendered confusing by not knowing what the German’s campaign aim are. Are they going to suddenly to turn towards the Channel just as one moves formations to defend Paris?

As with 300, Yas has boiled down all the historical stuff to the key issues but without just retaining the typical factor counting military obsession of the longer standard game. The Allies have a real chance to win, especially against a German who keeps doing the same thing every turn.

I regret I have not yet done a full review for BGG.

Across The Yellow Sea

Finally we have a naval campaign based on the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 – Red Sun, Blue Cross. One might be tempted into believing this was the same system as Avalon Hill’s enjoyable War At Sea. Both require one to control sea areas, some of which are worth more to one side than the other. But where War At Sea requires buckets of dice for combat Red Sun, Blue Cross is much faster and much more susceptible to a turn ending suddenly and in total disaster.

Naval combat in the Far East.
Red Sun, Blue Cross

The strategic situation is a Russian fleet of rather good battleships is bottled up in Port Arthur (in Russian Manchuria) near the Korean peninsula. The bigger Japanese fleet is aiming to control sufficient sea to allow their army to land and push inland both to control Manchuria and to render Port Arthur unsafe for the Russian fleet. The Japanese have some excellent British built ships, but that superiority may only be temporary, for coming to the rescue is the Russian Baltic Fleet.

Turns open with the Japanese and then Russian fleets sortieing (or not as the case may be – for example if a huge Japanese fleet lies outside Port Arthur) or repairing if in the right ports.

Moving at sea depends on the speed of the slowest ship in one’s fleet. One needs to score that value (or lower) on 1D6 to move from one area to another. This is easy for swift cruisers, not so easy for old pre-pre-dreadnoughts. The obvious answer is to build a squadron of one’s fastest vessels. But – unlike many a more complex game – instead of squadrons remaining separate in the same area, here any friendly ships aggregate into a single fleet. It follows that if one wishes to move to control as many sea areas as possible one needs to be very careful not to find some old rust bucket left in the path of one’s swanky Battle cruiser fleet. This inability to split fleets can also be very worrying if one is fleeing a naval battle with damaged ships.

Combat is very different from the Avalon Hill game. To be understood, think of it not as a long battle but a single passing salvo from the two forces. Firstly, fire is not simultaneous. The advantaged side (faster, or with initiative, or if all is equal the defender) fires first and inflicts damage first. So, let us imagine that this salvo comes out of nowhere before the other side can fire. The firing player selects any number of dice up to six. The firer rolls these and two things can happen; the score exceeds the firer’s own gunnery strength, OR it does not exceed it.

In the former case the firer inflicts ‘normal’ hits per dice up to the accumulated value of dice at or below their gunnery strength and no more. The Fire Director got that salvo very wrong! Normal hits are assigned by the player fired upon and they flip a ship for one hit (to damaged) and then sink up to the number of hits equal to the ship’s damage factor (a function of armour and size), BUT all hits must be absorbed so a few smaller vessels need to accompany the main force to cover their betters.

If, however, the dice score did not exceed gunnery values (the salvo was well directed) then each dice causes one normal hit (see above) and every double causes a ‘critical’ hit, triples two critical hits and so on. Critical hits are assigned by the firer (unlike normal hits) and one hit damages a ship or sinks a damaged ship. These are hits in vital parts of (usually) one’s best ships, chosen to make the biggest mess of one’s fleet by one’s opponent. And that, dramatic as it can be is the end of the sea battle. It may not however be the end of the sinkings, for there can be further sea battles in an area that turn.

The turn consists of each player dicing to see if they get a Naval Operation. They continue doing this until the turn ends. Each rolling the same number ends the process and many is the time my foe has escaped condign punishment and I have skilfully eluded my pursuer (it says here) because of a double. But otherwise, the high roller gets to select an operation. The operation can be to move one fleet to an adjacent sea area OR to fight a naval battle OR to Pass. Be warned if both sides pass it is turn over. This die-rolling can provide a strong narrative as a lucky roller may fight several battles one after the other in the same sea area until their opponent is completely destroyed. The loser of a single battle hopes to get the next operation so they can either withdraw (but watch those damaged ships) OR reinforce the Area to try to scare off their opponent (or maybe fight them). It is high stakes when fleets get too close. That single exchange of salvos can become a classic death ride or simply a brief clash in poor visibility.

The Japanese clearly want to keep the two Russian fleets apart, and to move their army forward. The Russian want to combine and damage the Japanese, but can they afford not to impeach the Japanese sea control until their Baltic chums arrive? The problems of command are well sketched.

This is probably the most conventional of Yas’ Bonsai games, but it remains a stinker to win, and a game that can end far too quickly (or the very opposite if one is on the ropes).

I have not reviewed this game on BGG.

There you have it, my pedigree chums, the Bonsai range (which includes other games, including one of my own designs) aims to take a wide range of topics that can also be played in larger formats in longer games covering more space. They provide a very valuable alternative to the baroque. I find them remarkable, and I hope some of you will also do so in time.

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Searchlight or spotlight.

In our ‘Spotlight on…’ articles we interview war and strategy games publishers to learn more about their history, philosophy and games releases. 

In this issue we speak with Nuts! Publishing, a French publisher that is expanding outside of its home market via some high quality war games.

In the hot seat: Florent Coupeau, CEO.



Can you explain the background to Nuts! Publishing?

Nuts! Publishing was started in 2011 in the West of France by four history buffs who wanted to publish war games. They gained a solid reputation by publishing several popular titles such as Phantom Fury, Urban Operations and Somme 1918. Despite this success, they realised they couldn’t devote the necessary time to the project, and reached out to me.

I had some background in the industry via the French company Hexasim and magazine Vae Victis, and I agreed to buy Nuts! in 2017. One of the founders, Olivier, subsequently left us to focus on his magazine Battles, but the others remained.  

What is unique about Nuts! Publishing compared to other publishers?

I wouldn’t call it unique, but because we also publish euro-style games, we try to bring that production expertise into our wargames through modern graphic design (like the cover and map of This War Without an Enemy) and upgraded materials (like the magnetic box for 300: Earth & Water).

For us, a game must be as close as possible to a ‘oeuvre d’art total’ (total work of art); something good as a game and nice looking as an object. Each game undergoes several years of playtesting and, again to stress the importance of design for us, we employ a full-time graphic artist for each product.

Blocks on the British Isles.
A green and pleasant land, for all but King Charles. The map and blocks from This War Without An Enemy

What is Nuts! structure – you also localise and sell games by others manufacturers in France I believe?

We try to work in thirds. The first third is for our own wargames (FITNA, This War Without an Enemy, Urban Operations) in English. Then our own eurogames with Mini Rogue and Diluvium in English and French. And finally, localisations, so translating international games into French. Localisations are faster to release as the original publisher has already done the playtesting and artwork, and it is what we have published the most of since 2018.

300: Earth & Water is a hybrid. It could have been a straight localisation, but thanks to the open mindedness of its designer, Yasushi Nagakuro, we were able to re-work some of the design and the artwork with his permission.

What are the most popular war games in your roster by sales?

We’re a very small company. Our wargame numbers are rather low overall, but Urban Operations has been a big success, there’s a strong player community for that game. Phantom Fury and This War Without an Enemy are next and both have had good sales.

300: Earth & Water will become our best-selling strategy game. A second printing has already been launched as we can’t keep up with the number of pre-orders we are receiving for it!

The ancient world of 300.
300 – the Bonsai game as re-made by Nuts! Publishing

Tell us about the relationship you have developed with Bonsai Games?

Yasushi (the owner of Bonsai Games) was kind enough to trust us and helped us develop his original game 300: Persian-Greco wars into an updated version 300: Earth & Water. A good number of his designs will be released by us in the coming years. His games will always do well. Small boxes with great artwork, few pieces, only around one hour of playtime, and always an amazing game design.

What war and strategy games do you have in the pipeline?

Oh, a lot.

Italia 1917-1918 and Saigon 75 should be published at the end of this year. For 2022, we have a slightly revised reprint of Urban Operations, and we will be looking to expand our new line of games under the Combat Rations badge.

The Combat Rations series is for 1 to 2 players and playtime is between 20 to 60 minutes. All the games will have an A3 mounted board, a small number of counters and wooden pieces, and, typically, playing cards. The intention with the low component count is to allow players to focus on the game, which we will design to have important strategic choices and replayability. We want people to be able to play these games on the train or plane, as ‘fillers’ between larger games at a club night or convention, and to act as a gateway game to bring new people into the historical gaming hobby. 

The first in the series was 300: Earth & Water. Next up we will release Port Arthur, about the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05, focusing mainly on naval operations, and probably Guerre Éclair after that – this game is a little gem, about the campaign in France in 1940 [the Bonsai versions of both these games are reviewed above by Charles Vasey].

We’re also working on a reprint of Phantom Fury, on a block game called We Are Coming Niniveh (covering the Battle of Mosul in 2017) and a follow-up to the game Race to Berlin called Beaches of Normandy. And for the fans of Liberty Roads, Stalingrad Roads will go on Kickstarter in September 2021. And we’re working on a solo version of 300.

Did I say we had a lot on our hands? Sadly, the production and shipping delays may change the time of release of these games.

Striking box cover art of Saigon 75.

Tell us a bit about the French wargaming market? Does it have particular genres or styles of games that are popular? Is the market growing in France for war and strategy games?

I’m not sure it is that much different from other wargaming markets. Napoleonic-era and World War 2 are the most popular topics. Modern war settings are more popular than I would have thought. And anything that involves a battle fought on French soil always does well, so that’s quite a lot of battles and conflicts, right…?

Hex and counter wargaming is not growing, but I would say it is stable. We are finding that new players in the market (and increasingly some of the older ones) prefer quicker playing games. But I believe that it is important to do both, and not just try to focus on strategy or historically themed eurogames. It is also a way of bringing new blood to the hobby. A player tries 300, then Imperial Struggle (Nuts! publishes the French version of that GMT game), and then finally This War Without an Enemy. After that, they can call themselves a Grognard!

What is your favourite non-Nuts! war or strategy game at the moment?

Two pop straight to mind. The first is Bayonets and Tomahawks from GMT Games, it’s a very good design by Marc Rodrigue. I love this time period and this game really reflects the various aspects of the French & Indian War very well. The other one is Brotherhood & Unity from Compass Games, covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. I knew a little bit about this war as some of my friends fought there in the French expeditionary force. But I learnt a great deal more from the game, it is so interesting.

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Bonaparte, the political general

“The world regards me only as a general, forgetting that I am an Emperor.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Fabled for his military leadership, Napoleon was also a statesman. Riccardo Masini highlights some games that address the more political side of the man as part of his short historical overview of Napoleon, the political general.


So much has been written, recorded and (for our purposes) simulated of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life and deeds, and yet still today, 200 years after his death, a rather narrow reading of his personality persists. This view sees the genius of this young and extremely ambitious son of Corsica only through his contribution to the art of war. In so doing, we miss the social and judicial reforms he enacted, the economic developments, his new concept of the relationship between the citizen and the State, and – not least – the creation for a period of a stable balance of power in Europe… all of which belongs to the realm of political, not military affairs.

Napoleone de’ Buonaparte came from a family belonging to the minor Italian nobility of Corsica. His father Carlo, actively supported by his wife Letizia Ramolino, acted as personal secretary to the great Corsican patriot Pasquale Paoli – a role comparable to Alexander Hamilton’s service to George Washington. Every moment of the Buonaparte’s family life was bathed in politics, leaving a deep and enduring mark on the young Napoleone’s education and way of thinking.

From his early days in the military academies of Autun and Brienne, and later of the Ecole Militaire in Paris, the future Emperor of France was attracted to great military leaders capable of joining great military feats with effective political action: Julius Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick the Great.

Adulation of such greats seemed out of place under France’s Ancien Régime – if not outright laughable, coming from an obscure provincial boy. But Buonaparte’s reading of those famous political-military leaders of the past would become more relevant following the turbulent political waves thrown up by the French Revolution; waves he would ride to eventually become Emperor of much of Europe.

First, he would endure hardship: exile from Corsica for his entire family following his pro-revolutionary involvement in the Corsican political scene and dissent towards Paoli’s pro-British politics. But then glory with the Siege of Toulon*, where the young artillery officer came to lead the bombardment of the former base of the French Navy, a key strategic point for the French army’s southern operations.

*GAMING THE SIEGE OF TOULONToulon, 1793, possibly the most original of all the games we will cover in this short walkthrough of Napoleon’s political side, was a fine addition to the already highly unconventional Legion Wargames catalogue.Players battle to breakthrough or defend the city while coordinating their not always cohesive forces (irregular Revolutionary army on one side, multinational contingent on the other). This all the while satisfying the exacting demands of their respective political leaderships and generally making the best of their insufficient resources represented by limited operation points.A multi-layered challenge both for the besieger and the besieged.

How did such a green and relatively unknown individual get into such a position? Simple, through political means. Specifically, by publishing Le Souper de Beaucaire (Supper at Beaucaire), a pamphlet in which, calmly and directly, Bonaparte defends the Revolution from the dissent of conservative critics. A reader and admirer of the pamphlet was none other than Augustin Robespierre, brother of Maximilien – a key leader in revolutionary France – who supported the promotion of Napoleon to artillery commander in the confrontation between the Republicans and Royalist supporters in Toulon. His political skills affirmed, Napoleon then went on to seize the opportunity to demonstrate his military judgement. His plan to capture Toulon was credited for the successful defeat of the Royalists and their Anglo-Spanish supporters.

After the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, it was in the subsequent Campaign of Italy under the moderate Directory, which ran the French First Republic, that Buonaparte really came of age as a complex and very modern historical leader.

Bonaparte’s involvement in the campaign was itself born out of two other political (with a small ‘p’) moves. The first, to align and attach himself to another hero of Toulon, Paul Barras. As a member of the Directory, Barras appointed the Corsican to head the Army of Italy. The second, a deeply personal act: to change his name. The Italian-sounding Napoleone Buonaparte became the appropriately French Napoléon Bonaparte.

Following this, Bonaparte’s every step of the 1796-1797 Campaign of Italy, from the speeches to the soldiers to the creation of the ’Sister Republics’ in the conquered portions of Piedmont and Lombardy, should be evaluated twice: first for the direct military implications, secondly for the indirect political purpose of creating a compelling public image that Bonaparte could flaunt in Paris when the opportunity arose. This is when the young general displays his appreciation of the political meaning of the word ‘strategy’.

In November 1799, Napoleon made another political move – the coup d’état of 18th Brumaire. This essentially closed the Revolutionary Era and began the short but highly consequential period of the Consulate**.

**GAMING THE END OF THE DIRECTORYPerhaps the Directory leaders should have given more attention to the underlying threat of Bonaparte that is at the core of the small solitaire masterpiece Levée en Masse (Victory Point Games).In the game you use Bonaparte to save the Republic time and time again, while trying to meet your own goals… until you realise by the end of the game that it was Bonaparte that was using you all the time for his personal, imperial agenda. Card after card, the player will try to make France ‘survive’ the ordeals of the various phases of the Revolution, from the first moderate days of La Fayette to the unending wars against the rest of Europe.Every turn there will be a new challenge to meet, a new disaster at the national borders to repair, a new crisis to contain… and a certain highly effective but very ambitious Corsican officer will always be at your disposal to solve your problems… or create entirely new ones of his own.

In these four crucial years, from 1799 to 1804, we can see what many historians consider the pinnacle of Bonaparte’s achievements. And it is not by chance that, between the great victory of Marengo (14 June 1800) and the precipitating events leading up to the Austerlitz campaign, this was a period of substantial peace for Europe.

Bonaparte was free to focus on what he loved most, reforming the portion of the world just conquered, before setting off to grab another piece of the map. His successes were truly comparable only to those of one of his role models, Alexander the Great! Economy and trade standardisation. The extension of military effectiveness and hierarchy to the public administration. Great feats of religious toleration and social moderation. Above all, the crowning jewel of the Civil Code, such an encompassing and outstanding legal achievement that many countries still use it as a model today.

This would lead the great German philosopher Hegel to say, after having met him on the very eve of the great battle of Jena, “I saw the Emperor – this soul of the world – go out from the city to survey his reign.” Indeed, through one lens we can view the great Napoleonic offensive campaigns in Italy, Austria, Germany, Poland up to the great disasters of Spain and Russia, as attempts by Bonaparte to export his political model outside the boundaries of France. This in direct confrontation with the other two political models of the era: that of the old aristocratic regimes, and the highly aggressive mercantile power of Great Britain.

Yes, the British. Not as formidable in military terms as the Russians or the reborn Prussians, nor as ‘traditional’ as the Austrians, but nonetheless the most utterly determined rivals of Napoleon. And let’s be clear, it was Napoleon himself they sought to defeat, even more than France.***

***GAMING THE COMPETING VISIONS FOR EUROPEA game such as the quite unfairly under-appreciated Victory & Glory: Napoleon (Forbidden Games) provides us with such a model, where France and Great Britain compete, seeding all Europe with their respective ‘world vision’ through diplomatic relations, economic agreements, political innovations and much more, in a quasi-Cold War à la Twilight Struggle. The cards held by the players will represent both military expeditions and economic or diplomatic actions which will try to change the map of Europe to match the interests of France and Great Britain, respectively. While the former will expand its influence on the four corners of the continent (by peaceful or ‘not-so-peaceful’ means), the latter will use all its economic power to form coalitions and undermine Bonaparte’s complex geopolitical schemes. Even if a bit unbalanced in favour of the British (a problem easily solvable through a couple of house rules), this is a tense but simple game, which comes with a manageable solo module.

While his domestic political achievements were immense, the true challenges for a political leader, be it a President or an Empereur, always come from foreign affairs. Surprisingly, Napoleon never showed any real tact in the subtle art of diplomacy, often making naïve blunders, such as the famous ‘Duc of Enghien affair’, when he ordered the capture and probably the assassination of an innocuous young noble outside the French borders, uniting all European countries against him. Such mistakes would regularly force Napoleon to resort to a military solution as a means of resolving disputes with this or that nation.

This also led him to a choice that looked perfectly reasonable when it was made, but that in the end proved to be one of the key factors in his downfall: the trust put in Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, chief of French diplomacy for all the Napoleonic age… and beyond. We always find Talleyrand in the shadows somewhere, from the fall of the Directory to his betrayal of Bonaparte to the Congress of Vienna, which sanctioned the final partition of Europe after Napoleon.

Talleyrand’s career and many intrigues and machinations show us how the Napoleonic period was not a simple frontal conflict between France and the rest of the world. On the contrary, except for Great Britain, there was not a single major nation in Europe that was not, at some point in the Napoleonic era, at least neutral or friendly, if not explicitly allied to France itself! The complicated network of crossed interest and the ancient rivalries of the three major continental powers (Austria, Prussia, Russia) were as much useful points of leverage for the British to form this or that coalition against Paris, as for the French to dismantle it****.

****GAMING DIPLOMACY AND COALITION BUILDING IN THE NAPOLEONIC ERAThis opens the way to epic multiplayer games based on dealings as much as military action, like The Napoleonic Wars (GMT Games), by veteran game designer Mark McLaughlin (author of titles such as War and Peace, Wellington and Kutuzov), or the highly detailed classic Empires in Arms (Avalon Hill).In both cases, even if with different levels of complexity, players have to use both military and the diplomatic power tools to obtain their goals, since the situation will be always too complicated to allow just a single nation to obtain victory against all the others combined. While The Napoleonic Wars retain all the accessibility and dynamism of traditional multiplayer CDGs, Empires in Arms is a true classic full of historical flavor and well known by long-time veteran wargamers.More recently, PHALANX completed a Kickstarter for Coalitions, a negotiation heavy game (pictured) for up to 6 players that I have enjoyed. It deliberately skips over singular events to focus on the general historical dynamics of the era. The result is an experience similar to the age-old classic Diplomacy (Avalon Hill) with asymmetrical powers constantly ready to go neutral or even switch sides for the right price, coupled however with a combat resolution system that while abstract is much less deterministic and quite unpredictable.

To conclude, we must always remember that, for all his political ambitions and sensibility, Napoleon began his adult life as a soldier and continued to see the world around him through his ‘general’s telescope’, constantly using military models and approaches in all matters, military or civilian. But he was never an apolitical ‘technical general’. He never saw the sword and cannon as tools unto themselves. They were political instruments to change how things were done and regulated in the different spheres of human life.

When we speak about Bonaparte, von Clausewitz’s conclusions about the relationship between war and politics and Justinian’s code of laws are just as important as Gribeauval’s essays on artillery and Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars. And this is as true for historical research as for board games.

Coalitions (1).png



The Campaign Commander Series

Ops outside of the box

Bellica 3rd Generation 2009-11

Punic Island cover.png

Summary: Persist with the rulebook and you’ll discover an innovative system that with a bit more polish could be a gem. 


The Campaign Commander series comprising Roads to Stalingrad, Coral Sea and Punic Island is in parts exciting, innovative, warty, stuttering. Had it been a GMT release, the series would be held I’m sure on a par with the Levy & Campaign system of Nevsky fame. But while Levy & Campaign basks in the relative might of the development, production and marketing machine of GMT, Campaign Commander is the product of a one man show, Francisco Ronco and his publishing company Bellica 3rd Generation. For better and worse it shows.

For better because the series – to paraphrase notable wargame commentator Judd Vance – plays like it’s been developed in a vacuum. The three key tenets of an operational-level war game, how you simulate the activation of forces in a kinetic environment, how you supply them, and how you resolve combat, are all done a bit differently. For the most part, the result is positive.

For worse because a lack of development means the system’s pacing can a bit off, and a poorly translated rule book and an absence of rules for edge cases can lead to a lot of time on BGG trying to understand how certain actions are meant to work.

I make the link with Nevsky because, like it, the Campaign Commander system does not abstract away supply to ‘supply lines’. Rather you need actual supply counters where the action is happening. And if the action moves you need to move the supply with it. Achieving this, or failing to do so, is rewarding and nicely frustrating in equal measure.

On your turn, you can do an onboard operation or a card action. For the former, you spend a resource point to grant six supply points to nearby units. This can include reorganising or rebuilding damaged units, moving, transporting or stacking friendly forces or resources, and of course engaging or besieging the enemy. As your forces move further from their starting point to capture opposing cities, fortresses, island bases, they move out of reach of the resource points. They are then stranded and cannot be activated until a resource point is placed within range (within three spaces on land or one space if at sea). In some cases, poor planning around this can be disastrous. In Coral Sea – which covers the Japanese invasion of the islands of the South Seas of the Pacific between spring 1942-43 – all Japanese resources must be placed in Rabaul and then transported by naval units to forces spread out across the Pacific. Constant ferrying of resources to and fro uses up existing resources both at source and destination, requiring breaks from onboard operations to play or discard cards to generate new resources. Certain forces may end up isolated and unable to activate for a whole game as early imperial ambition flounders under inability to manage the logistical task of supply. To my knowledge this is a sui generis approach to supply and multiple unit activation.

Coral Sea: Some much needed resources make it out to Japanese troops garrisoning Guadalcanal
Coral Sea: Some much needed resources make it out to Japanese troops garrisoning Guadalcanal

That’s far from being the system’s only differentiator. There’s also the approach to game turns. Each player simultaneously reveals a chit with a map icon – to conduct an onboard operation – or a card icon on its face. If both players reveal the map there is a roll-off to see which side gets to conduct the on-map operation. One side will have the initiative based on the historic situation, the Germans at the start of Roads to Stalingrad for example, and the initiative players gets a generous DRM to help but not guarantee them to win the roll-off. Whoever loses this roll forfeits their turn. Bad luck.

If you play the card chit you can draw a card, play one, or discard one to place a resource point on the map. Unlike map operations you can take your turn even if you both play the card chit, no roll-off required. The cards come in different varieties, strategic, combat and reaction, and also act as a timer for the game, which ends when a player’s deck has run out, or auto-win conditions have been met. Deciding when to play a card chit or gamble on a map, particularly for the non-initiative player, can be very important and adds a rock-paper-scissors aspect to the overall game play. Unfortunately, it means that the game is difficult to play solo.

Roads to Stalingrad: The German advance slows to a halt in the absence of resources (Vassal module)
Roads to Stalingrad: The German advance slows to a halt in the absence of resources (Vassal module)

Last but not least there’s combat. Forget combat resolution tables or combined unit strengths. Based on the units involved each player will blindly draw a number of faction-specific chits and alternate playing them. These will typically involve either something mildly bad for the opponent, very bad for the opponent, or annoying for you – disorganisation in your ranks for example. The outcome is always a cohesion test for one or more defending and attacking units based on a D10 for the targeted unit, which if failed may result in disorganisation and retreat, or depletion (aka step loss). Playing the chits in the right order with the right units is key to success.

For all the interesting innovation, or perhaps because or, the system can be tough to grok. The rulebook is unhelpful. I genuinely have a high tolerance for poor rulebooks, but here it has a real impact on the playability of the games. The other issue is pacing. Roads to Stalingrad in particular, but also Punic Island, can feel a bit stuttering at certain points of the game. This has two causes: the time it takes to resolve combat, which can be long even if there are relatively few units involved; and the hand replenishment mechanic.

There is a hard hand limit of five. At the limit – which one often is – you need to take a turn to discard a card, and that’s all you do. Then a subsequent turn to draw a card. Again, all you do. You might then discard again the next turn. And so on. All this to slowly get through your deck to find a required reinforcement card, particular event card, or to end the game, potentially while your opponent is carrying out multiple onboard operations. The flow isn’t quite right. The games could have done with a bit more development in terms of pacing around card actions in my opinion.

Of the three games released so far in the series the standout is Coral Island, Volume II. The aforementioned Judd Vance says this is one of his top five games of all time and I can see why. Like all good Pacific Theatre strategic games, it’s sand box where the only limitation on what you can do is your ability to supply your forces. The movement of resource across the Pacific takes the thematic feel of the game up a notch compared to the other two in the series. The relatively low number of combats and symmetry between the sides largely spares us the pacing issue. It’s exciting and tense to play.

The entry level game to the system is Volume I – Roads to Stalingrad. While this can be a longer game due to the frequency of combat, the absence of fortresses or naval movement and combat make it relatively simple. It doesn’t have the replayability of the other two, but the reward of the game is the way it captures the feeling and restrictions of stress on German supply lines as they advance eastwards and the impending challenge of winter. As a bonus you get an East Front game that only has about 20 counters per side.

Volume III is Punic Island and covers the first Punic War. It has a more complex ruleset and the most asymmetry between how the sides play. Again, it’s a bit of a sandbox and a game that you will want to play several times to try out different strategies. The fairly high number of combats in the game mean you will have to deal with multiple combat chit draw situations, which after a while can somewhat distract rather than add to the enjoyment of your conquest or defence of ancient Sicily.

Punic Island: Hamilcar launches an amphibious assault on Mesana while the Romans are occupied elsewhere
Punic Island: Hamilcar launches an amphibious assault on Mesana while the Romans are occupied elsewhere

Despite being the most recent, Punic Island is now 10 years old. Volume IV in the series is due by Christmas though. Called White Sea, it will cover the battles in the Eastern and Central Mediterranean from 1565 to 1574 between the Christians of Spain and Italy and the Ottomans and their piratical allies. It’s described by designer Ronco as “Mostly a naval and amphibious game with a cat-and-mouse game around fleets and coastal fortresses”. He’s going to get the English system rules re-written to iron out the interpretation issues, making this a great potential Christmas gift for the wargamer who likes their operational-level games a bit outside of the box.

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Atlantic Chase

GMT Games 2021

Summary: A strategic game of cat and mouse between the Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine that’s all about plotting ‘trajectory’, 2021’s wargame word of the year.


My very first serious wargame, bought at a convention in Earl’s Court in 1980, was Avalon Hill’s Bismarck. Forty years later, Atlantic Chase – a GMT game by Jerry White – covers the same ground.  It’s operational level, the Royal Navy Home Fleet against the Kreigsmarine surface forces between 1939 to 1942. It spans the battle for Norway, surface raider breakout and return attempts – including of course the Bismarck – and contested arctic convoys

Lots of things seem similar, updated to 2020s GMT quality. Individual ships live on task force cards, task force markers move around an operational map that stretches from Newfoundland to Kiel, and from the Arctic Circle to the exits to the South Atlantic. When task forces (TFs) find each other, they are moved to a battle board where they roll off until one is either sunk or escapes. There is a basic set of battle rules, and an advanced set with added chrome to spice things up.

However, the operational game in Atlantic Chase comes with a big new approach to time and space, which changes everything, and, to get my conclusion in early, is a brilliant innovation.

Firstly, there’s no time track or turns as such. A player has the initiative and can perform multiple actions. After each action there’s an increasing possibility that the initiative will be lost.  The other player will at some point get the initiative, perform actions until he or she loses it, and then its back to the first player

Secondly, and this is the really clever bit, the fog of war is moved directly onto the table in front of both players. TFs on the move don’t exist in a single hex – they exist as a line of hexes – a “trajectory”. This is marked with neat wooden trajectory markers. If the trajectory is long, the uncertainty around the TF’s actual location is high, if it’s short, it’s low. Neither side knows exactly where its ships are. And this uncertainty feeds directly into gameplay – because performing actions in the game means getting the trajectories to do things, and the longer the trajectories are, the harder it is to get them to do anything

For example, if you want to search for an enemy TF, you plot one of your trajectories to intersect an enemy trajectory and perform a ‘search’ action. This is simple: add the trajectory lengths together, roll dice, add some modifiers – air support, coordinating task forces – and consult a table. With a long trajectory total and no modifiers, it’s very unlikely that you’ll find the enemy straight away, but you might shorten its trajectory, and you might get some more positive modifiers for next time. If you keep the initiative, you can search again with another action, and you’re more likely to succeed. All actions – engage, air-strike, ‘stealth’ (for submarines and mines), ‘completion’ (for getting a task force back into port) follow the same basic approach: the longer the trajectory total, the harder it is to do what you want

But – and here is the game in a nutshell – every time you perform an action you also have to shorten the trajectories of your own active task forces. You might lose the initiative, and then suddenly the other player is plotting trajectories with his task forces to try and find you!


This is a brilliant combination of concepts, and works well in all sorts of ways, most importantly in game play, but also as a simulation. The trajectories criss-crossing the map evoke the situation maps plotted at HQ. The game is about forming a plan with your assets and trying to execute it, whilst the other player is doing the same.  There’s a real sense of cat and mouse, the hunter becoming the hunted. It works very well. You can spoof with your trajectories to lay false trails and misdirect, use the weather and special leader abilities, seize the initiative to pick off weaker supporting forces. But nothing’s certain. If you lose the initiative half-way though executing your plan your pieces may be in the wrong place – all great gameplay stuff.

So full marks to Jerry and GMT!  The ‘trajectory’ concept is both radical and satisfying and I have no doubt we’re going to see it again. There’s talk of a Pacific Theatre version, a Great War version, maybe a Napoleonic version – I’m looking forwards to them all.

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World War Africa: The Congo 1998-2001

Decision Games 2021

Congolese soldiers en route to the action
Congolese soldiers en route to the action

Summary: An engrossing game that sheds light on the most woefully under-reported and deadly war of the 21st century.


The Second Congo War, which formally ran from 1998 to 2003, had by 2008 resulted in an estimated 5.5 million civilian deaths through disease and starvation. That’s at least 10 times more than has occurred in the Syrian civil war. The latter rightly attracts international focus on account of the scale of suffering and caused, and the multinational nature of the various belligerents. The former? Barely known about, at least in the UK. Yet for those in the know, it is also referred to as World War Africa.

An aftershock of the Rwandan genocide and an earlier war – the First Congo War of 1996-97 – the Second Congo War saw the well-prepared Rwandan army, supported by various militias and, for a time, by forces from neighbouring Uganda and Burundi, push into Congo to try to topple Rwanda’s former client government there, and gain access the country’s rich mineral resources. While initially successful for Rwanda, the war quickly ground to a stalemate as Zimbabwe, Chad, Namibia, Angola and various associated militia groups joined in on the side of the Congolese government.

The fighting was in parts brutal, daring, amateur and disorganised. The initial Rwandan plan was a cut-the-head-off-the-snake attack by landing commandos into an airport near the Congolese capital Kinshasa and marching on the city to overthrow the government. Rebuffed by the unexpected entry on the government’s side of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean forces, Rwandan forces retreated then attacked again. The war was characterised by improvisation, old Eastern European hardware in dis-repair, drunken Serbian mercenaries, North Korean military advisers, an assortment of variously aligned militias, child soldiers and mass defections.  

The consequences for the locals were horrific, with executions, mass rape and torture the norm as the international forces looked to continue deadly Hutu-Tutsi rivalries and stake their claim to the Congo’s riches.

The conflict is brought to life in World War Africa, a game released in early 2021 in – the now sadly discontinued – Modern War magazine. Designed by Javier Romero, it’s a two-player low complexity hex and counter game that plays in about four hours. One side represents the ‘Government’, comprising the contingents of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) itself, Zimbabwe, and Angola, the other the ‘Rebel’ contingents of Rwanda and Uganda.

Play takes place on a nicely illustrated map of the DRC. The goal of the Rebel player is to control towns and resources hexes in the DRC plus eliminate Hutu units, that of the Government to stop them and potentially infiltrate Hutus back into Rwanda. Chits for the five contingents are drawn from a cup each turn, randomising the activation of the different forces – a simple but effective mechanic to simulate the difficulty commanders faced planning and coordinating combined actions between friendly forces.

Prior to the draw there will be a random event such as (North Korean) “Foreign Advisers”, giving a DRM boost to the DRC forces. When a contingent’s chit is drawn the first step is to bring in any desired reinforcements. These are ‘paid’ for via resource points received based on a contingent’s control of resource hexes. The reinforcements received are largely a random draw, again reflecting the confusion of the war. Units can then be activated for movement. In the case of Zimbabwe and Angola the number of units that can be activated will be limited by factors linked to resources, limiting the impact of the more powerful units they bring. How far a unit can move will depend on the terrain and the time of year, with rainy season making transport more costly and difficult. This makes getting control of towns with airfields very important as air transport can ferry units across the board regardless of the season. It also makes contingents with access to helicopters a dangerous foe as they can insert units in key locations without airfields behind enemy lines, though at the risk of isolation.

Fighting is bloody with a cruel CRT that can mean large losses for the attacker. This encourages the use of overwhelming force, militia units that can be used to soak up losses, and encirclement to cut off supply. Supply is very abstracted but the benefit to combat makes tactical play in relation to it effective. Resource points can also be spent on weapons supplies or air support to shift the CRT in your favour.

Set up - Rwandan forces surround Hutus in Kivu
Set up – Rwandan forces surround Hutus in Kivu

The nature of movement, the contingent chit draw, and the random nature of reinforcement makes for a dynamic game that does, I believe, a very good job of capturing the see-saw nature of the fighting, the importance of terrain, and the difficulty in coordination your various forces.

It’s obviously the stated objective of most war games to provide an alternative pedagogical tool for understanding a conflict. World War Africa is a game that absolutely achieves that goal. You might not be able to remember the initial and allegiance of every single militia by the end of the game, but you will understand the type of conflict it was, and the role of various belligerents involved. It’s also a really good game in its own right.

So well done Javier Romero for bringing us a game that sheds some light on a criminally under-reported recent world war. I feel there’s scope for a great multi-player simulation of the conflict given the differing objectives of five main contingents involved, if any budding designer out there is looking for a project.

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Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943

C3i Magazine 2021


Summary: a low-complexity, East Front, hex and counter game with some interesting mechanics 


Battle for Kursk was published in 2020 in C3i Magazine 34. Despite the name, the game does not focus on the famous eponymous engagement of summer 1943, but covers the whole campaign on the Eastern front from March through to November of that year. The system is based on that used in Frank Chadwick’s Battle for Moscow: Operation Typhoon, 1941, and Objective Kiev, both published several years ago in C3i Magazine. But Trevor Bender, the designer of Battle for Kursk, has introduced a significant new mechanism: Posture Selection.


The game comes on a 1-sheet map that is both attractive and functional, though the progress of fortification building can become hidden behind the counters. Each player is provided with key information laid out in front of them: the sequence of play, battle sequence and combat results table. The counters are plain but do the job, and as there is a stacking limit of one counter per hex, all relevant information can be seen at a glance.

There are some unusual elements to the system. The sequence of play features a preliminary phase of rail movement for infantry and armour movement, followed by combat, then the normal movement phase. During combat, an Offensive may be launched by spending a chit, enabling units behind the line to participate. This means that some units may need to be positioned in advance, on the previous turn, in order to launch effective attacks. The fortifications provide a strong defensive advantage, creating an attritional aspect to the game. Even after a gap in the opposing line has been made, the rules on Zones of Control (friendly units do not cancel an enemy ZOC) make a breakthrough slow, unless the gap is three hexes wide. But significant breakthroughs can occur and can be game-winning, as I’ve learnt to my cost. Posture Selection takes place at the beginning of each turn, enabling each player to select one of four approaches from Engage (fully active but with reduced replacements) through to Pause (neither movement nor combat but with increased replacements). This provides an aspect that is common in card-driven games but is usually missing in more traditional hex-and-counters wargames.

With just over 10 pages of rules, interspersed with examples, and low counter density, Battle for Kursk is suitable for newcomers to this traditional wargame format. But there is also plenty of interest for veteran Grognards and, indeed, there is something of a learning curve for playing well. Victory is determined instantly by German capture of Moscow, or by ownership of objective cities at game end. But both players have a couple of viable strategies and so there is a fair degree of replay value to the game.

Battle for Kursk is a great example of a magazine wargame, and I look forward to future games using the same system.

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Prophecy of Kings

The first expansion for Twilight Imperium 4

Fantasy Flight Games 2020


Summary: An expensive must have for those who want more sprawling space opera, but not an auto-buy for the occasional imperialist or those with more euro-ish inclinations.


In the last issue of Punched I reviewed the Fantasy Flight staple Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition (TI4). Having now played a few games with the recently released Prophecy of Kings (PoK) expansion it seemed appropriate to share some thoughts on this as well.

PoK is a big-box expansion adding new mechanics, new factions, new systems and lots of new cards. In a rather bold move, it’s neither modular nor stand-alone. You need the TI4 base game to play, and you can’t really pick and choose specific expansion components to add-in; many of the new factions, techs and units interact with other ‘expansion’ mechanics, making it a broad ‘take it or leave it’ proposition.

Quality-wise it’s comparable to the base TI4 components, the Mech (a new type of ground unit) sculpts are in keeping with the wider atheistic and the various cards, faction sheets and so on are the standard you’d expect from a Twilight Imperium product. (A minor but noticeable upside, the backs of the action and objective cards are consistent enough with the base game that you don’t need to sleeve things to get round the ‘different shades of cards’ problem).

Lots of new shiny - including mechs!
Lots of new shiny – including mechs!

Clocking in at c.£75($100), PoK is a heavier acquisition than most full board games, so do you get your money’s worth?  Well… it depends

If you’re new to Twilight Imperium, then realistically you don’t need PoK to enjoy the core game. There aren’t any glaring imbalances that it takes an expansion to fix, and whilst you’re still trying out different base game factions or seeing objectives or action cards for the first time, PoK is probably too much, too fast. Take your time, get your value from the base game, and then decide if you want to mix things up a bit.

If, however, you’ve got a fair few games under your belt and certain things are starting to wear thin (the over reliance of the objective deck on acquiring technology, the agenda phase seeming a bit pointless, the same factions getting drafted every game, even the relatively repetitive early game land grab which tends to pan out the same most games), then PoK is probably just what you need to shake things up. The new objectives add some additional variety to the game and reduce the dominance of tech-builds, the agenda phase secret objectives are a fantastic addition that add some purpose to your political manoeuvrings, and the extra factions are competitive enough to be playable without being game breaking. 

It is also worth considering whether you like your TI4 experience towards the euro-y or the wargame end of the spectrum. PoK adds a number of random elements to the game, not just by increasing the number of cards available, but also with exploration and relic mechanics that can mean the same opening moves resulting in very different board states depending on what cards come out.

Personally I thought this was great, adding more reasons for minor border squabbles and skirmishes, and encouraging trading between players. On the other hand, if you prefer an optimised experience, this expansion might be less to your liking, particularly given the price.

One of the odder looking new factions in the expansion
One of the odder looking new factions in the expansion

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