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




Yes, that’s a Charles S Roberts award-winner logo you can see on the front page of this issue. Thank to all the readers that voted for Punched as the Best Amateur Wargame. It/we won!

The CSRs are a bit strange. A tonne of different categories and very little hand-holding. I don’t actually know who runs it. But who cares? Punched won. I’m very happy with the achievement. Maybe I should turn it into a glossy print magazine? (Any investors out there that wish to support such an endeavour just drop me a line!)

While I still have your attention, and before I jump into what you can read in this issue, this is your last reminder to get your tickets for the inaugural PunchedCON, a new wargame convention I’m running in Coventry in the UK between 13-15th May.

There’s a serious amount of good stuff planned for those three days in May. The games organiser already has four games of Here I Stand being organised. And some of the prizes on offer from our sponsors and supporters are fantastic. It will be a very friendly crowd and there’s plenty of accommodation, so if you live in the UK, or fancy a trip over, please check the event website out and get yourself a ticket.

Speaking of conventions, this issue of Punched has a review of the top wargame conventions in Europe. Obviously PunchedCON will be top of your list, but if for some reason Spain, France, Italy or Germany hold more appeal than the Midlands ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) then there’s plenty of great options, as you’ll be able to read all about.

Before getting onto that though you’ll want to read our profile of Mark Simonitch. A very nice, humble gentleman who knows a thing or two about how to design a brilliant wargame (and even more about how to design a wargame map!).

We’re then very privileged to have some great contributor articles. First up is one from Beyond Solitaire’s Liz Davidson. Probably the hobby’s most famous solitaire gaming commentator, she’s written a great article setting out her top five Ancient Rome-themed board games to play solitaire (spoiler alert: Pandemic Fall of Rome doesn’t quite make the cut). Her article is followed by a very interesting comparative review by Andrew Bucholtz of the deckbuilding wargames Hands in the Sea and A Few Acres of Snow. And then lots and lots of wargame reviews. Nestled in between all of that is our Spotlight On profile of Revolution Games. Phew.

My thanks to all the contributors to this issue, truly a stellar cast: Liz Davidson, Russ Wetli, Andrew Bucholtz, Scott Moore, Trevor Sturmy, Fred Serval and Neil Bunker. And thanks as ever to Donal at Ciotog Creative for the great artwork and design support for this issue.

Happy gaming! 

James – Spring 2022

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DON’T MISS OUT! 13th-15th MAY 2022

PunchedCON is almost here!

Order your 3 day ticket for just £40 at www.punchedcon.com


Successful, innovative, but shy of the limelight, Mark Simonitch was a designer I wanted to know more about. Lucky for me, he agreed to a profile piece in Punched.


“My design process? I sit down, move pieces around, until it feels right.” Mark Simonitch, one of the most prolific and successful wargame designers we have, is a humble kind of guy.

We are chatting over video on a late Friday afternoon, London time, Friday morning, Mark’s Texas time, about Mark’s life in wargames.

Born in late 1957 in California, he started wargaming aged 10. A degree in graphic arts was followed by 15 years working for printing companies and advertising agencies. In 1989, working as a freelance artist, he did his first wargame map for Strategy & Tactics. The map was for a game called Harvest of Death, about Longstreet’s attack on the Union left flank at Gettysburg. More freelance map projects followed for the now defunct wargame companies 3W Inc. and Command Magazine, and others.

Harvest of Death: The first of 100s of maps that Mark has designed

His first full-time wargame job came in 1995 when Avalon Hill hired him as a graphic artist and game developer. He worked there for two and a half years before moving in the late 90s to his current home in Texas, and his current role as GMT’s head of graphic design.

And in that time, he’s made a lot of maps. “I did 100 maps even before I went to Avalon Hill, and that was without computers.” His job at GMT is now much more than that. “I barely do graphic artwork anymore. We have 10 to 15 freelance artists helping us, and Charlie Kibler, working full-time. My job is to help coordinate it.”

Mark is one of the five principals of GMT, alongside Andy Lewis, Tony Curtis, Gene Billingsley and Rodger MacGowan. “We typically make the major decisions together – which game to add or drop from the P500 for example. But then we let each other get on with it.” The working arrangement is loose but effective. GMT has grown every year for the last 12 years, even growing at the height of lock-down. “The wargame industry is flourishing”, says Simonitch, though conceding that this isn’t universal across the genres of the hobby. “I think the more traditional hex and counter games, the type of games I generally do, appeal more to the older wargamer, and I think the market is slowly shrinking for that. It will still exist, but the industry is moving now to new styles, of the type Volko Ruhnke and Mark Herman are now focusing on.”

A typical day for Mark involves several of hours in the morning responding to various emails, mainly from the graphics team. Then a few hours working on the latest graphical project, a map or booklet, before he downs GMT tools and turns to one of his own designs; playtesting with his developer a game over Vassal or working on a specific mechanic or feature. 

Game design started for him in 1991 with a North Africa front game – The Legend Begins. Mark self-publish it through a company he set up, Rhino Games. More games followed, but self-publishing proved tough, and when Avalon Hill offered him a job that involved game design, he jumped at it.

He got a big break at Avalon Hill when Mark Herman, then very busy with government work, agreed to hand over the job of designing a card-driven game (CDG) about the Second Punic War. The game became Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. It remains Mark’s most commercially successful game to date. “It’s had so many reprints and new editions I’ve lost count”, says Mark. There’s even an app version of the game coming down the line. Almost as popular was another ancients-themed CDG – Successors, co-designed with Richard Berg. “I just thought the concept sounded really amazing, and it turned out to be.”

Hannibal – Mark’s most commercially successful game has had multiple reprints and new editions

At GMT the game designing continued, though Simonitch largely moved back to his preferred hex and counter style. He made a design breakthrough when he developed the concept of ZOC bonds for his 194X series of World War 2 games. A ZOC bond combines a Zone of Control – typically a ring of hexes adjacent to a unit, representing zones where that unit can interdict or interfere with an opponent’s movement and supply – with a bond, a link between units between hexes that is impassable to enemy units. It’s a mechanic that evolves ZOCs to better address what should be the impact of overlapping zones projected by allied units.

The ZOC bond in practice

Mark explains the background: “I was playing a game called Guderian’s Blitzkrieg and I was boxed in by just two stacks. I thought to myself: with six sides to a hex, I really shouldn’t be boxed in by two stacks. It should take at least 3 stacks. But if there was a bond, then that should be unbreakable”. It’s one of those ideas that, like the CDG-concept, is now so obvious that one wonders why no one else thought of it. “It works really well, and it actually allows games to organically develop more closely to what happened historically.”

Multiple games in the 194X series have followed. “I make games using this system because it’s proved to be effective and popular and, frankly, it’s easier to do then starting from scratch with a new system each time.”

Testament to this, when he finishes off developing North Africa’41, his latest 194X P500 game (and incidentally a remake of his first game The Legend Begins), Mark plans to develop two more games in the system – Cassino and Anzio – to link with his game on the Italian campaign Salerno ’43.

Of course, even if these games share similar mechanics, each must tell its own story. In keeping with his background in the industry, Mark always begins with the map “I work out the area I want to cover and adjust the size of the hex grid to fit that – always trying to keep the hexes as big as possible”. This starting point defines the rest of the game. How to develop movement, and even the scale of the game. In parallel he has someone help on the order of battle, and from that begins a year-long process of playtesting over Vassal with his developer and a few trusted playtesters.

It’s not all hex and counter. In 2020 GMT released Caesar: Rome vs Gaul, a point-to-point game by Mark that uses a similar card-driven and movement activation mechanic as Hannibal, but that dials down the complexity. “Every game I design I try to make it simpler than the game before. With Caesar, I learnt a lot about interception and avoid battle from my game The U.S. Civil War, so I ported that over. The mechanics work very well. There are some balance issues; it’s harder for Rome than it should be. But we’ll fix that.”

Speaking of The U.S. Civil War, it’s the game that Mark is most proud of. “Every time I play it, I really enjoy it. I’m very happy with how it turned out.”

His favourite ZOC bond game to pick up and play is France 40. “I just really like the way that the game plays. The German drive across France to the coast is very exciting to watch unfold.” And of games that he hasn’t designed? “My three favourite games of all time are Eclipse, War of the Ring and Inis. There’s nothing I would change about them.”

Mark and co-GMT Principal Tony Curtis playing a game of France ‘40 (Photo credit: Rob Bottos)

We start to wrap up, but I’m interested to hear about The Band of Gamers. It’s a tour that Mark has been running for 12 years now, bringing over from the US a bunch of like-minded gamers to tour the battlefields of Europe and sample the region’s gastronomic fare. “The food’s actually the most important thing,” Mark jokes.

So far, they’ve taken in several tours of Normandy, the Bulge, the Franco-Prussian War, Germany, Poland and Italy. The plan is to restart it once Covid allows, perhaps taking in a tour following in Caesar’s footsteps around Gaul. I offer to show Mark the delights of England. He’s polite but non-committal. Damn island. If only we’d been invaded more, or the food was better.

Mark surveys a European battlefield with his Band of Gamers

Mark’s published games

1. The Legend Begins (Rhino Game Company, 1991)

2. Campaign to Stalingrad (Rhino Game Company, 1992)

3. Decision in France (Rhino Game Company, 1994)

4. Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage (Avalon Hill Game Company, 1996) 

5. Successors (Avalon Hill Game Company, 1997)

6. Ukraine ’43, 1st Edition (GMT Games, 2000)

7. Ardennes ‘44 (GMT Games, 2003)

8. The Caucasus Campaign (GMT Games, 2009)

9. Normandy ‘44 (GMT Games, 2010)

10. France ‘40 (GMT Games, 2013)

11. Ukraine ‘43, 2nd Edition (GMT Games, 2015)

12. The U.S. Civil War (GMT Games, 2015)

13. Holland ‘44 (GMT Games, 2017)

14. Stalingrad ‘42 (GMT Games, 2019)

15. Hannibal & Hamilcar (PHALANX, 2019) 

16. Caesar: Rome vs Gaul (GMT Games, 2020)

17. Successors (PHALANX, 2021)

18. Salerno ‘43 (GMT Games, 2021)

Have dice, will travel

A grand tour of Europe’s wargame conventions

While trailing the US in terms of numbers of conventions, the Old Continent boasts an array of diverse and exciting wargaming conventions, many in beautiful settings.


This May sees the inaugural PunchedCON event taking place in Coventry, UK. It’s shaping up to be by far the biggest wargame convention the UK has seen for a while, if ever. Hopefully it will be a grand success and will run for many years to come. One of the factors prompting me to help set up the event was my jealousy at seeing Continental cousins attending great wargaming events, while anything featuring the term “wargame” in the UK only involved ridiculously overpriced plastic Space Marines or meticulously painted Napoleonic Hussars.

Indeed, Europe has an interesting and diverse wargaming convention scene. Not up there with the US in terms of sheer number of dedicated conventions, but unique for the beauty of the locations and enthusiasm of the organisers.

So, a la Lord Byron, let’s take a tour of the Old Continent and take in its convention scene This shouldn’t just be of interest to European readers – what better way to holiday then to combine a trip to Rome with a visit a wargame convention? Think of the espressos!

I don’t claim this tour will be in any way thorough. It’s just what I’ve been able to gather from reaching out to people. The best place to get an overall global picture that I’ve found is the Armchair Dragoons event calendar.

We’ll begin the tour in the land of miniature wargaming, my very own Blighty.


This is going to be a fairly quick stopover, as the only board wargaming event other than PunchedCON that I’ve come across is Unthirl Your Banners.

Unthirl Your Banners

This is a small games convention of around 20 attendees that takes places in a beautiful setting: Thirlmere in the Lake District, Cumbria.

The first event was held in February 2019. Since then, there have been three face-to-face events, and two Covid-enforced online events. It has grown from a 3-day event to a 4-day event and now has a strong regular base of attendees.

Tickets cost around £15. The best place to find out more information is on the Con’s BGG Guild page – here https://boardgamegeek.com/guild/3497.

Overlooking Thirlmere in the Lake District.

Thirlmere – Don’t let the scenery distract you from supply line calculations


A new event to be held at a spa hotel in Coventry, in the centre of the UK. It has been set up by me and Second Chance Games, which are the #1 independent retailer of wargames in the UK. The venue is very spacious and can easily accommodate the 200 or so gamers that we hope to have attending.

This is a hardcore gaming event. No seminars, no guest speakers, no knock-out competitions. There’s no closing time. Just three days and nights of wargaming. There will be a prize draw with a ton of great games that will be given away provided by our sponsors (PHALANX, Nuts! Publishing and Multi-Man Publishing), supporters (GMT Games, Hollandspiele and Bellica 3G) and Second Chance Games. And, if it is a success, we hope it will become a go-to event not just in the UK but for visitors from beyond these shores.

Tickets for the three days cost £40. Tickets are still available for the May 2022 event. More details here – https://punchedcon.com/

The main gaming room at PunchedCON. 90+ tables, 200+ guests. There will be tables for the actual event, obviously


The Bel Paese, truly my favourite country to visit, is not only fabulously well served by food and architecture, but has an abundance of wargaming events to boot.

San Marino Game Convention

The biggest is the San Marino Game Convention, which gets about 200 attendees a day over the three days it runs. Hosted in a convention centre in the sunny enclave of San Marino near the Adriatic coast, it places the emphasis very much on gaming rather than exhibitors and seminars. Expect to find players pouring over games from GMT, Multi-Man Publishing, Compass Games and the rest. And possibly enjoying a gelato between games.

The next event is scheduled for the end of April. Best of all – admission is free! More details here – http://www.sanmarinogame.com/.

Inside the venue at San Marino

Gioco e Storia

Next up, we have Gioco e Storia (Games & History), which may even trump OPJH in terms of venue: a military history museum! The attendance at their last event in 2019 was around 100 people, and the event is underpinned by Italy’s largest wargame community, Casus Belli. Though there are miniature games played, the principal focus is cardboard.

There are also seminars, and previous events speakers have included none other than professional wargame academic Professor Philip Sabin.

Entrance is free, and the organisers arrange deals with nearby hotels and B&Bs for discounted room prices for attendees. More details here https://www.facebook.com/GiocoeStoria.

Some stylish-dressed young wargamers at Gioco e Storia

Rome Wargame Gathering

Finally, there’s the Rome Wargame Gathering. Common to many other conventions it runs for three days, and it the last event in 2019 reached a peak of 80 gamers attending on the Saturday.

The convention has quite a particular focus: miniature wargames tournaments and Advanced Squad Leader. That said, at the last event attendees played a variety of other games, GMT’s COIN and Combat Commander games, various titles from Avalon Hill, Quartermaster General, and Wings of Glory.

The event takes place in a hotel in Rome, and the event very much packages itself not only on the options for gaming, but also the wider opportunities to combine attending the event with visiting the Eternal City.

Tickets costs €40 for all three days and a room in the hotel will cost you about €90 for a twin room with breakfast (which, believe me, for Rome ain’t bad!). The next event takes place in October. More details here – https://www.fiw.it/rwg/

That’s quite an entrance


Last but not least, to Iberia. Spain is having a wargaming moment: new publishers, innovative designers, great illustrators. Unsurprisingly then it also boasts Europe’s top wargame convention.


The daddy of European wargame conventions is BellotaCon, located in Badajoz. Though a somewhat harder to reach part of Spain, the convention has established a cult following. This is in part due to its very Spanish approach to hospitality – each attendee gets a free pack of top range cured ham from the region, and in the past guests have been showered with free wine from local vineyards and free beer from local breweries. It is also due to the clientele – gamers travel from far and wide to attend and it has become almost a networking event. Volko Ruhnke and Stuka Joe are regular attendees, and most of the names in the European wargaming community make an effort to go.

This year the event was Covid-impacted but managed to go ahead by moving to a much larger venue. Time will tell if the move means the event loses some of its magic, but on the plus side there’s more space and more attendees. Tickets are €60. More details here – https://www.wargamereviewer.es/bellota-con/

Bellotacon is famous for the great artwork on its promotional posters
A bigger venue for the 2022 event

Cinturon de Hierro

The last stop on our tour is Bilbao and a new one-day event Cinturon de Hierro. The inaugural event was held in January with around 50 attendees, and the plan is to run it every year, though the date may change. It’s another free event, and there’s lots of accommodation options in the wonderful city of Bilbao. It’s run by A.C. Uhartea, a local gaming association. For more information, keep an eye on their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/Asociacion-Cultural-de-Juegos-de-Mesa-Uhartea-110785327450585/

So fellow travellers, that ends our short tour of the old Continent. As you can see, there’s ample opportunities to visit some cracking destinations and get some gaming in at the same time. With the virus hopefully behind us you now have no excuse not to start planning. Bon Voyage!

A well attend seminar at Cinturon

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Five great solo games…
About Ancient Rome


Salvete, omnes! (That’s “Hi everyone!” in Latin.) There are some amazing historical games out there from a variety of settings and time periods, but I’m a Latin teacher by trade and a solo gamer in my free time, so I’m going to recommend five delightful solo board games set in ancient Rome. There were a few criteria that went into making this list:

  • The game is set in ancient Rome. This includes all eras and provinces (although I would love to see more historical games set in Late Antiquity, and in provinces other than Britain, Gaul, or Germania).
  • The game can be played solo. I’m writing what I know!
  • The game is current and can be ordered from somewhere, even if it’s awaiting another print run or not readily available at your FLGS.

Rather than present these games in ranked order, I’m going to cover them alphabetically. Each is enjoyable in its own way, so if one strikes your fancy, give it a shot!

1. Agricola: Master of Britain (Hollandspiele, 2016)

First on the list is Agricola, but not that Agricola.

While ‘agricola’ does mean farmer in Latin, it was also the name of a governor of Britannia during the reign of Domitian. Agricola was a successful administrator and general in his day. Or at least his son-in-law, Tacitus, gives that impression in the biography that he wrote about him. In Agricola: Master of Britain, you’ll be trying to wrest back control of Britain in the face of constant uprisings, while hitting a required victory point threshold on each turn that represents just how well you are doing.

The game’s brutally increasing demands, harsh intolerance of your failures, and range of approaches to how you handle rebellions make the first few plays especially tough, but you will get a tremendous sense of satisfaction as you learn to work the system. This game also features a fascinating chit pull mechanism, in which enemies move between cups to represent their level of hostility towards you.

No action you take is without consequences among the people you’re attempting to govern, so good luck out there!

Agricola: Master of Britain is also the first and simplest game in a series using its particular victory point and chit pull system, so if you like it, you can try further iterations. Charlemagne: Master of Europe is good, but not quite Roman enough for this list. I still need to get and play Aurelian: Restorer of the World, which I expect to be the most fully developed version of this game system.

Agricola – no cabbage planting to be seen in this version

3. Stilicho: Last of the Romans (Hollandspiele, 2020)

Stilicho: Last of the Romans is one of my favorite solo games when I want to set up something that is familiar yet challenging. In this game, you are Stilicho, a half-barbarian general doing your best to hold everything together in the face of multiple military challenges. You’ll have to beat back your enemies while also managing your reputation with Emperor Honorius, who has entrusted you with his armies… but who is also susceptible to gossip from Olympius, your rival in Rome who would absolutely love to see your fall from power and probable execution.

Gameplay takes place on a simple paper map where you’ll try to push back approaching armies – if you time it right, they may even fight each other! – while managing your own forces and shoring up your defences. All of this is done through cards that can be played either for action points or for their events, which can lead to tough decisions. Your enemies are all controlled by another deck of cards, but trust me, you won’t like anything that comes out of there. This game is fun and challenging, and I always get a kick out of it – even if the historical Stilicho lost on Turn 3 and I don’t always do so great myself!

If you like this game system, you can also try Wars of Marcus Aurelius, the predecessor to this game that is set during the Marcomannic Wars. I think Stilicho is a touch better, but I still keep and play my copy of WoMA for a little variety within a game system I truly like.

Stilicho – another solitaire gem on ancient Rome from Hollandspiele

4. Tetrarchia (Draco Ideas, 2015)

This is the least historical game on this list, but I put it here because I like it and because mechanically it will be in someone’s wheelhouse.

To me, Tetrarchia is the game that Pandemic: Fall of Rome should have been. It’s a stripped-down, brutal cooperative game where the four emperors (two Caesars, two Augusti) of the Roman tetrarchy work together to subdue the borders of the Empire. Faceless barbarian armies will approach from every direction, while unrest can spark anywhere and lead to outright revolt. Meanwhile, you can only do so much on your turn, and you only have so many garrison discs to place in strategic areas to both protect from further unrest and hedge your bets in battle against encroaching armies.

Probably the most interesting mechanism in this game is that battles are decided by die rolls, but you can add to your die results based on the number of your own garrison discs that are connected to your army and based on the number of allied generals in the area to help against your opponent. Caveat: Barbarian armies have the same die modification abilities, and they can drop a lot more discs than you can. The battle rules lead to interesting tactical puzzles on top of the ever-present challenge of trying to put out fires all over the board.

Tetrarchia can be challenging to acquire, depending on where you are. Its publisher is in Spain, and you currently need to preorder it through the Draco Ideas website. If that is not something you want to do, you can try Pandemic: Fall of Rome instead. I don’t like it quite as much as I like Tetrarchia, but it’s absolutely a fun game and to be honest it has much better production values.

Tetrarchia – what Pandemic: Fall of Rome could have been

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Hands in the Sea, A Few Acres of Snow, and the potential of deck-building wargames

A Few Acres of Snow introduced the deck-building wargame. Hands in the Sea successfully transported it to a new conflict. Might others follow?


Daniel Berger’s Hands In The Sea, first published in 2016 by Knight Works Games, is a two-player deck-building wargame on the 264-241 BC First Punic War between Rome and Carthage. It builds on many of the mechanics used in Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow (2011, Treefrog Games), which covers the 1754-1763 French and Indian War in North America between Britain and France. Berger notes in the companion guide he was initially designing a more traditional card-driven game, but when A Few Acres came out, “Inspired and reinvigorated by Mr. Wallace’s design, I eventually decided to completely retool my own game based on his.”

Both games are for two players, both play in two hours or less, and both are relatively approachable (perhaps especially for those familiar with deck-building games in other genres). Both use many of the same mechanical concepts, right down to how many of the different actions work. And they also use the same argument to justify how limiting the timing of players’ specific offensives based on card draw – a consequence of the deck-building mechanic – is justifiable: in both conflicts, tightly-centralised command and control was not possible; one couldn’t simply wave a hand and expect things to happen.

Hands in the Sea is not clone of A Few Acres of Snow. Berger made thoughtful changes to fit the historical situation. And he created an excellent game in the process. His success is an indication that the deck-building wargame mechanics seen in A Few Acres can be transported to and tweaked for other conflicts.

Of course, these mechanics didn’t completely start with Wallace either. The deck-building engine at the heart of both A Few Acres and Hands has several predecessors, the most prominent being Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion (2008, Rio Grande Games). Many of the concepts are the same; you get a certain number of actions on your turn, you play cards for actions, and you draw back up to five cards at the end of your turn. The key innovation seen in both A Few Acres and Hands that make them a ‘deck-building wargame’ is the location cards.

Martin Wallace proudly shows off his game at Essen Spiel 2011

In both games, you start with a small deck of cards, including some locations and some units. You build your deck not just by buying or drafting cards, but also by settling or conquering territory, which requires playing a connection, transport, and possibly a settler or military units. When you successfully take a territory through settlement or conquest, you gain not just a piece of your colour on the board, but also the card that matches the location. That card has connections to other nearby (or further away, by water movement) locations and often some symbols of its own. And there are plenty of angles to consider in both games beyond just expanding and attacking; the games also include economic actions, raids versus full conflicts, hand-management actions and more. Thus, some locations may be useful for some of those actions, but not for others.

This leads to tough decisions on which locations you want. That’s especially true considering how the cards’ connections mean you need a certain set of cards to launch a particular offensive, to say nothing of needing to have the units that will do the fighting in hand. Empire expansion comes with efficiency trade-offs, and hand/deck management becomes a big part of both games. And the challenges of running an overseas 18th-century AD conflict (A Few Acres) or a closer 3rd-century BC conflict that still had limited communication with field commanders (Hands), are well represented by these general mechanics.

With A Few Acres specifically, it remains interesting to play today on several fronts. The map is heavily based on river and naval movement, and the connections aren’t equal for both sides, adding some levels to offensive planning. The French and British sides are quite asymmetrical, and there are several different ways to play both that can work depending on your opponent’s strategy.

River movement is important in A Few Acres of Snow

A downside to A Few Acres is that the sole source of randomness is what cards you draw when, and the ability to thin your deck can reduce that to nil, which can set up one particularly dominant strategy. All other variability in that game is from player choices, so it can be extinguished with the same set of focused choices. Deck-thinning and particularly focused strategies both remain in Hands, but there are new sources of variability to consider.

Hands adds multiple layers of chrome on top of the A Few Acres engine, and does so to strong effect. One is the inclusion of strategy cards, which players can purchase for ongoing bonuses. These increase asymmetry, and the market mechanic for these diminishes predictability.

The Strategy Deck for Hands in the Sea

Beyond that, there’s the incorporation of fleets. A Few Acres has ship symbols for transportation and combat, which are retained. But Berger goes well beyond that in Hands by giving Rome and Carthage separate fleets they can build, move to different areas on the board, block opponents’ supply lines (often a crucial part of the game) and even use to fight with each other. And those fights involve die-rolling, further reducing predictability.

One last key change is the campaign sequence. A Few Acres has no rounds, and no in-game scoring. Hands has campaigns. The bottom card in the Carthage deck is always the campaign card, which triggers an end-of-campaign sequence of an event (which also adds variability), income, scoring, and strategy card cycling, so a lean Carthaginian deck will end campaigns faster than a bloated one. And the timing of those campaigns often matters, both for in-game positioning and potentially for victory.

It’s now 11 years since A Few Acres’ first publication, and six since Hands’ first publication. Both of these games are still a joy to play, and they suggest there may be room for more deck-building wargames on other historical conflicts. It would have to be the right kind of conflict; the card-draw randomness and limited location activation here might not work thematically for a modern conflict with highly-centralized command. But there are many historical conflicts where these kinds of command challenges might be a fit.

Of course, this idea has seen some growth in some areas since A Few Acres, with some historical games incorporating deck-building in other ways, and with Wallace taking this particular system to fantasy and space settings. There would seem to be a lot of room for further games with mechanical engines closer to the A Few Acres/Hands model, though. And in an era where we’re seeing great success for series of games based on similar engines, including COIN/Irregular Conflicts/Levy and Campaign/Undaunted and more, maybe we’ll get a full universe of this style of deck-building wargame some day.

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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 Revolution Games, a US publisher that focuses on getting hex and counter wargames done right.

In the hot seat: Co-founder Richard Handewith.


Can you explain the background to Revolution Games and how it came about being set-up?

Co-founder Roger Miller and I had been playing wargames for more than 20 years and always had an interest in publishing and the mechanics of running a business. Around 2012 Roger was going through a tough time personally and so we decided to go into business and start Revolution Games. It was good ‘therapy’ for both of us. We could focus on a passion we had for gaming and running a business.

We have been in business for 10 years now and have published over 20 titles. It has been a great experience for us to see people play and enjoy our games. We are gamers at heart and understand the value a game can bring.

Do you have a particular ethos or unique selling point that forms the basis for the games that you decide to publish?

Since Roger and I are old grognards, we mostly feel comfortable with historical board games. We look for games that have unique mechanics while also providing somewhat historical results. That said, if a game were submitted to us that had great mechanics, was fully developed, and not on a historical subject, we would definitely consider publishing it

What have been the most popular games by sales in your catalogue?

Our bestselling game is Celles: The Ardennes; a small format Ziploc game on the Battle of the Bulge that has integrated movement and combat. It provides the gamer with a good intense game that can be played in 4 to 8 hours depending on experience level. Our bestselling game series is our American civil war ‘Blind Swords’ games. This elegant system was designed by Hermann Luttmann. We have had several different designers for the different games in the lineup. Longstreet Attacks: The Second Day at Gettysburg is the best seller to date in that system.

Celles & Longstreet Attacks: Top sellers in the Revolution Games catalogue

Tell us about a forthcoming release that you are particularly excited about?

We have two new games that are currently in progress and should be released soon; Death of an Army: Ypres 1914 designed by Kerry Anderson, and Warsaw 1920 designed by Yasushi Nakaguro.

You typically focus on more traditional hex & counter war games – any plans for games in the more political-military sphere or using CDG mechanics?

We are open to publishing different types of wargames, but we have usually gotten submissions of traditional hex and counter games or area map games. One exception is coming in the next year: Eagles in the Sky, a WW1 air game that is card-driven with a display that records the relative positions of planes. As a grossly simplified explanation, think ‘Down in Flames’ meets ‘Upfront’.

Playtest Art for Eagles in the Sky

Given the success Nuts! Publishing have had with reprinting Bonsai game 300 with a high-quality production approach – is this something you are now considering with your Bonsai ziplock games?

No. For a light war themed crossover game like ‘300’ the mounted board, wooden pieces, cards, etc. makes perfect sense as you are trying to reach a non-wargamer audience. But for our audience, which is more of the traditional wargamer, that type of production would not sell more Pacific Fury, Fury at Midway, or the upcoming Warsaw 1920.

We have tried producing games that are boxed only, ziplock only, or sold in both boxed and ziplock, and for the market we are hitting, all versions have sold about the same. We thought offering both ziplock and boxed would increase overall sales. It did not. It did make folks happy however in that they could get it the way they wanted, so that was a plus for us. If we made our games from Bonsai like ‘300’, boxes, mounted maps etc. it would also add substantially to the price and some parts could not be even made in the USA, and that has been something we have avoided.

You produce all your games in the USA – is there a specific benefit to you of that approach?

Yes, we produce our games in the US. It does cost more than producing a game in China, but it does provide us some advantages. The first is we are not as dependent on the supply chain issues the world is currently experiencing with the backlog in US and Chinese ports. Second, we don’t have a language barrier to overcome. We don’t have experience with printing and die-cutting and struggle with the industry terminology, thus we feel we reduce risk by producing here in the US. We have also been happy with the quality of product provided to us so far.

What is your favourite non-Revolution Games war game you are playing at the moment?

My favourite game right now is Enemy Action: Ardennes, designed by John Butterfield and published by Compass Games. Roger’s favourite game he has played recently is from Salerno to Rome.

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The Valiant Defense Series

Historical tower defence

Dan Verssen Games 2018-2022

Box covers in 30s style realism.

Summary: Meticulously researched and crafted solitaire games with the perfect blend of theme and mechanics


Visit any of your favourite social media groups involving solitaire wargaming and inevitably you will see someone ask a question that goes something like this: “Hi! looking to try a solo wargame, where should I start?”. If you look at the thread of comments it won’t be very long until you see someone suggest one of the titles in the Valiant Defense series.  There is good reason for that.  

Each game in the series (Castle Itter, Pavlov’s House, Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, and the forth coming Lanzerath Ridge) share many of the same qualities. They all are relatively simple to learn and they all tell compelling, interesting, and well-researched stories. This includes photos of defenders on counters and a companion book chock full of the historical notes.

The core gameplay of each game can be summarised as follows: you play the part of a small group of defenders, holding a position against overwhelming odds.  

Each game will feature an area you have to defend, surrounded by tracks that the enemy will appear and advance against your position. This is very similar to States of Siege games, only with the scale being at the tactical level. Also, (with one exception) like States of Siege, if attackers penetrate your stronghold, you will lose the game.

Castle Itter: Game end, attackers progressed and almost stormed Castle Itter

Also core to every game is the limited actions you can take with your defenders to hold back the tide. Each turn you will be faced with many things you need to do, but only a handful of options you can do. In another consistent design choice, each volume uses easy to read colour-coding to establish line of sight.  Each defending position is colour-coded to an attacking advance track. The defenders can only attack colours that match their positions.

Lanzerath Ridge (coming late 2022): the defender in the brown/blue square can target the circle 3 defender because they are in same colour, which establishes line of sight

Victory is usually determined in similar ways: first, if you were able to survive until the attack deck runs out, and second – if you did survive – calculate a score based on the game conditions compared to the actual historical outcome. This is very much a series pushing you to do better than the historic outcome.

To keep the games fresh, they all include various alternative variants to change the difficulty through use of tactics cards that will grant bonuses to the attack waves. Also, all except Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms include cooperative and competitive variants.  While these are first and foremost solo games, I will say these variants are perfect for teaching the game and sharing the story with someone. In fact, one of my early plays of Pavlov’s House was cooperatively with my son as he is a big fan of World War II history.

With all this said however, usually the next question would be, “But if I have one game in the series, do I need the others?”  My answer to this question is yes.

The reason for this is that designer David Thompson has taken time to match what appears similar mechanics, but tweaked to fit each volume specifically. 

The first volume: Castle Itter, has one of the most interesting stories. It is set in early May of 1945, just days before the end of World War II. French VIP prisoners, including former prime ministers and generals, hold out in a former castle turned SS prison camp with the help of US soldiers and defected German Wehrmacht soldiers against an SS assault.   

Castle Itter’s map includes 12 attacker spawn paths, which means keeping your focus across all the board is vital to success. A key mechanic is the escape action. If you can clear a path, one of the French defenders can escape and go for help. This aids you in the game perspective in that you shuffle in a game-ending card earlier if you can make the escape early. Otherwise, you’ll have to last the entire attack deck. On the flip side, Castle Itter has some of the lowest rules overhead, and is the title I routinely recommended for those completely new to solo gaming.

Moving on, Pavlov’s House, probably the most famous of the volumes, is the story of Soviet defenders holding out in an apartment building (named after Sgt Pavlov who led the assault to take the position). It was important to the defence of Stalingrad in Autumn of 1942, and the subject of much Soviet wartime propaganda.

In this title, the board is divided into three unique sections. The first is the bank of the Volga and is the operational level in which you must decide how to best support the defenders in the ‘house’. This is very much a resource management phase.

The second section includes the Wehrmacht approach, with six paths in which both enemy armour and infantry will try to storm the location.  This phase includes the infamous Stuka bombers which will bomb the operational side of the board, limiting your ability to re-supply and defend.

The last section of the board is your defenders in the house, in which you must deploy the soldiers to best cover each section of the attack. These three levels of focus are one of the reasons many people feel this is the best in the series.

Pavlov’s House is a step up in complexity from Castle Itter, but the resource management phase gives a different layer to consider vs. the purely tactical approach of Itter.  This would be a good entry for someone making a transition from Euro games to the wargaming space.

Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms, the newest title, is the story of Polish Postal workers in the Free City of Danzig during the first days of World War II when Hitler invaded Poland. This title is one of the more sombre in the series as historically, most of the defenders ultimately surrendered and were eventually executed by Nazi occupation forces.

Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms: Attackers in ground floor interior, note the different floors of the post office

Gameplay wise this is probably the most complex of the games. The interior defences in this game are much larger and include a vertical emphasis in which your defender move between stories of the post office.  

Also, this is the only game in the series in which the attackers can (and probably will) breach your defences. If they, do you must be able to attack and remove them, or you have to re-shuffle the current attack wave and go through a second time! This, along with floor clearing Howitzers in the final attack deck, make it one of the more challenging in the system, but also one of the most narratively focused, if that is something that appeals to you.

Lastly, I would love to give a sneak peek on the forthcoming volume, Lanzerath Ridge, which has just gone through Kickstarter and will hopefully arrive by late 2022. This game focuses on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, in which single platoon held back a German Division for nearly 20 hours.

I playtested Lanzerath Ridge, and it has some big changes to some of the mechanics. For example, for the first time in the series different dice are used to illustrate attack values: D6 through D12 are used for increasingly powerful attacks depending on the defender and weapon used. Also, this is the first in the series in which an exhausted defender cannot recover by use of a standard action, only a command or assist action. This means that as you make attacks, you will not be able to use that defender again the rest of the attack wave. 

These streamlined mechanics, along with a new art direction by artist Nils Johansson, make this what I think might become the best one in the series yet. It is probably most similar to Castle Itter, and I think a great place to start. Veterans of the series will also undoubtedly like some of the rule simplifications.

Any way you go, if you are looking for a solo experience with huge narrative value about little-told stories, this series is one you should check out. Things to keep in mind about the series as a whole: it is at a tactical level, involving individual defenders, and it is a dice-chucking game. You’ll be rolling lots of dice. Also, a streak of badly rolled dice and unlucky attack cards in a row might end your game early. If those aren’t for you though, this might not be the series to check out. However, if you are okay with some randomness in your solo games, you really can’t go wrong with any volume in the Valiant Defense series.

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Shadow conflicts of the Soviet Empire

Russia and the legacy of the Soviet Union are now front and centre of political discourse. Three magazine games released prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine capture past, present and future conflicts that flicker in the shadow of the former Soviet empire.


The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest – though clearly the most impactful – of multiple conflicts that have dogged the former states of the Soviet Union since it collapsed in 1991.

You wouldn’t know it from the wargaming state of the art – I’m pretty confident that more games were released last year alone on the Napoleon-era than have been released since 1991 on conflicts in the post-Soviet states.

Fortunately, the cupboard isn’t entirely bare. I’ve played three magazine games in recent months that all do a sound job of shedding some light on the shadows that still flicker from the end of the Soviet empire. They cover the immediate aftermath in the Nagorno-Karabakh Oblast, the first Russian steps in Ukraine in the Donbass region, and a hypothetical Russian invasion of the Baltic States in 2023.

Soviet Fallout: The Nagorno-Karabakh War 1992-1994

Decision Games, 2021

The Nagorno-Karabakh War is one of these low intensity, occasionally high intensity, ethnic-based conflicts that have rumbled on since 1991. It flared up fiercely again in 2020 when a re-equipped and re-trained Azerbaijan force smashed the local Nagorno-Karabakh forces and their Armenian backers. This was a reversal of the outcome of the 1992-94 conflict covered in Soviet Fallout: The Nagorno-Karabakh War 1992-1994 by Javier Romero, and published last year in Modern War magazine.

In 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) declared independence and launched a local insurgency against Azerbaijan, the administrative controller of the region (or Oblast). Though outgunned and lacking resources, NK militias received significant military support from Armenia, a country that boasted battle-hardened former Red Army units, and in the Azerbaijanis faced an opponent both lacking morale and riven by factional infighting. The end-result was a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Azerbaijan partially conceding Nagorno-Karabakh independence, but no real solution.

The conflict also saw substantial use of ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeri and Armenian civilians were evicted from towns and villages for base ethnicity reasons and to put political pressure on the opposing governments.

Ethnic cleansing is addressed in the game more directly than in – for example – the excellent Brotherhood & Unity, covering the brutal civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There you are penalised if you create a refugee crisis. Here the game encourages you to engage in ethnic cleansing as a potential victory condition. It’s not uplifting. But Romero makes clear the ethnic cleansing rules are there because it happened, and to demonstrate the impact of racially motivated warfare on civilian populations.

Also addressed in the game is the role of Soviet mercenaries: former Red Army units bereft of an army, who in the first three turns may join either or both sides to support attacks on the opponent. Other chrome includes a random event each turn, for example a coup in Azerbaijan drawing back units from Nagorno-Karabakh, and rolls for both the Azeri and Armenian units before combat to see the extent to which they participate. This can be particularly punishing for the Azeris, who may just flee before a fight, reflecting the chaos and politics higher up the chain of command.

Former Soviet units help with the Azeri push on the regional capital of Stepanakert

Beyond the chrome the game shares many mechanics typical of Javier Romero games – including a CRT that is just brutal for the attacker unless they have overwhelming odds. ZOCs play a major role. This brings inertia into the game, but careful balancing of the number of units that can project a ZOC means it never becomes fully bogged down. The game has an interesting arc as NK units become more powerful and Azeri military reforms give them a one-off boost. All the games I’ve played have been very close.

If this game whets your appetite and you want to learn more about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Flying Pig Games just released a game in its YAAH magazine on the 2020 conflict called Caucasus Burning. I’ve not played it yet, but after playing Soviet Fallout, I want to.

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Donetsk: Battle for the Airport

Flying Pig Games, 2017

Donetsk: Battle for the Airport, released in Flying Pig’s YAAH! magazine, recreates the fierce nine months of fighting in 2014-15 for control of Donetsk airport in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian army and separatist militias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

After initially re-gaining control of the airport from 200-odd separatists in May 2014, the Ukrainian army was eventually dislodged in January 2015 by weight of fire brought against it by very well armed Russian ‘volunteers’ fighting alongside the separatist forces.

Locally, the battle became known as Little Stalingrad on account of the close-quarters nature of the fighting, and destruction wrought to the airport.

Separatist troops surround the airport and its Ukrainian defenders

The game comes with four scenarios chronologically tracking the initial seizure of the airport through to the final push to oust the Ukrainians. It is a tactical, low counter-density game, with a bespoke approach to combat and unit activation that captures the grimness of the fighting and the importance of leadership in chaotic circumstances.

This through a combat resolution system that both rewards and punishes close-counter firefights. If you are trying to get control of the main terminals, the terrain penalty is such that you really need to infantry assault, or combine fire at range to up your attack value. But assaulting leaves your infantry both open to ambush as they leave the safety of their APC, and to reaction fire upon entering the enemy hex. Combined fire is safer but requires the activation of multiple units by a leader unit, reducing your tactical flexibility.

This is important because in most cases unit activation occurs on an alternating basis, creating a to and fro of reaction and counter-reaction between the two sides. There is no ZOC. Just small, lightly armed units and vehicles fighting in relatively large spaces, between ruined buildings. Hexes are hard won. Sometimes your leader will be hit by a sniper and your main force pinned down. You want to be able to respond to what your opponent does.

The game does a good job of capturing the brutal nature of street warfare between modern forces, and I believe stands up well against what we now know to be the reality of warfare in Ukraine. Unfortunately, from what I can tell you can only now get it on PnP. If you do there’s a fairly decent Tabletop Simulator module you can use if you don’t want to bother with printing and cutting.

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Suwalki Gap: The Baltic 2023

Decision Games, 2021

In 2016 the famous US defence think thank the Rand Corporation publish a headline-grabbing study that concluded that, based on a series of wargames it had run, NATO was unable to adequately defend its Eastern Flank against a major Russian assault. Russian forces had significant geographic and manpower advantages and could arrive at the capitals of the three Baltic states within 60 hours (and Vilnius in Lithuania a lot quicker). A key aspect of its geographic advantage was the Kaliningrad Corridor, also known as the Suwalki Gap, which connects the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad with the Russian puppet-state Belarus, and separates Poland from Lithuania. It’s only 110km-wide, and if Russia could control it, the Baltic States would be cut-off, significantly stifling any NATO attempt at a land intervention to take them back.

Suwalki Gap: The Baltic 2023, published last year in Strategy & Tactics magazine, looks to simulate such an attack. It’s a typical hex and counter game rules-wise. Longer than most magazine games but shorter than something like GMT’s Next War series, its appeal is to allow you to test the waters for how modern warfare in Eastern Europe may look like, without having to dedicate multiple days and get your head around very detailed rules. It’s also arguably more ‘realistic’ than Next War Poland in terms of the likelihood of materialising. Though who’d want to take bets on anything these days?

Russian forces in Kaliningrad eye-up the Suwalki Gap

Tragically, we now do not need a game to show us how such an invasion might play-out. We can though compare some of the ideas in the game with what we’ve seen on the ground in the Ukraine.

Suwalki Gap has several hypotheses:

A) NATO will not react immediately, even to an invasion on the territory of one of its members. And when it does its build-up will be slow;

B) Russian cruise and ballistic missiles are incredibly powerful and can, most of the time, interdict if not destroy NATO Brigade-level units across anywhere in the region;

C) Russian S400 anti-air units will basically deny NATO any form of air superiority;

D) Russian special forces – aka Little Green Men – are incredibly competent at infiltration and can take airports or ports if ‘unguarded’, without challenge; and,

E) Russian land units would not have any issues drawing supply to any hex in Russia or Belarus except if specifically interdicted by a ZOC.

 Against where we now are (as at end-March 2022) how do these hypothesis stand-up?

 A) NATO looks like it would probably react immediately, but build up may be slow.

B) This is the hypothesis that has proved to be the most inaccurate. It’s unfortunate as it has a massive impact on the game.

C) This might be true, it’s still hard to say based on what’s happened in Ukraine.

D) Russia’s asymmetric abilities and it’s Little Green Men have probably been over-rated by everybody.

E) This looks optimistic. While the distances are much shorter in this game, poor Russian logistics, maintenance and morale need to feature in future games on similar subjects.

That said, it’s easy to have the benefit of hindsight. And this is of course a different conflict to what we are seeing in Ukraine. The game does a good job of showing the key geographical pinch points in the region, and, even if not entirely accurate, I welcome the fact that it takes a position on the impact of cruise missiles and Russian SAMs.

The game is also enjoyable to play, for the Russians at least, with multiple decision points and interesting unit choices. It also demonstrates that you don’t need masses of rules to simulate modern-armed conflicts between major states. One to check out if you want to dip your toes into modern conflicts but don’t want to go all in with Next War or something similar.

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Kingdom of Heaven: The Crusader States 1097-1291

Multi-Man Publishing, 2012

Summary: A theme-rich, card-driven and nicely playable take on this epic period


For me, wargames are all about the narrative history, and this is something Kingdom of Heaven: The Crusader States 1097-1291 (KoH) delivers. It’s a scenario-based game covering the various crusades of the Middle Ages – nine in all – from the (astonishingly fortunate) First Crusade, through the Third Crusade of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the arrival of the Mongols, the rise of Baibars and the final collapse of the Crusading States. 

The network of starting forces, alliances and castles changes from scenario to scenario, resulting in different feels to the play. But there are some common themes. The Crusading States are individually weak and typically suffer from an inability to work together. Reinforcements – in the form of a strong crusading force from Europe –- generally only arrive late and after the disastrous loss of some key military or religious real estate. The Muslim States are stronger and come with fewer, more powerful leaders, but are sometimes factional. There are unreliable allies. And there is an appropriately 12th Century feel to fate: leaders die, epidemics and storms play havoc with your plans, castles and cities might surrender meekly at the approach of a large enemy force or hold out for a year or more. And going into battle is always a risky business.

This is all achieved with a standard set of ‘We the People’ card-driven game mechanics on a point-to-point map. The map has a lovely sandy feel, covering Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt, with Byzantium and Mosul squeezed in as holding boxes, and with named leaders and faction differentiated units. Turns cover a year’s campaigning through play of a seven-card hand. Cards are played for events or to activate leaders, and also double as Siege Cards. This all works quickly and neatly, with the basic engine customised in some simple but impactful ways for period feel. 

Card-driven mechanics and a point-to-point map: hard to go wrong

Firstly, leaders can only command their own troops and subordinate leaders up to their command rating. Thus, two leaders with same command rating can’t work together. Feudal politics (or sibling rivalry) captured very easily.

Secondly, reflecting the importance and frequency of siege warfare in the period, the game’s siege mechanics are highly developed, and full of flavour. Attacking cards call up siege towers, trebuchets, rats in the food and other medieval horrors. Defending cards call up Greek fire, new wells, epidemics in the besieging force. Making a siege work to the point where an assault can be made can take time. But there are more attacking cards than defending cards, so in the end, an assault will be possible. Whether it will be successful is an entirely different matter.

Thirdly, the development of defensive infrastructure through the period is captured through the appearance of additional strongholds in more and more locations as the scenarios progress through the period. Strongholds restrict offensive operations as defenders can retreat into them and force the invader into time-consuming siege warfare. 

There’s no campaign game here, so there is no alternate reality in which the Crusader States last for ever. But the game does show you how the situation changes over the period, why battles and sieges were fought where and when they were, why locations like Acre and Antioch were so important, and gives you a glimpse of what might have been if, say, Aleppo, Damascus or (especially) Egypt had fallen early on to the Christians

And this, after all, is the surely the whole point of games like this. It’s quick, it’s fun, luck can be managed, but not eliminated, and each game play leaves behind a strong story about what happened and didn’t happen. Scenarios can generally be played in an evening, so it’s easy to cope with a bit of random bad luck – just file it away, swap sides, and play again!

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Ambon: Burning Sun & Little Seagulls

SNAFU Design, 2021

Summary: Not the most innovative design, but an engaging, fast and beautiful hex and counter game on an unusual topic.


Following the attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched the Dutch East Indies campaign to secure much-needed oil resources. As part of this, in late January 1942 the Japanese started an offensive on a small island in the Moluccas. It was called Ambon, and it was home to a strategically-located airbase and a contingent of Dutch and Australian soldiers who defended it.

This is the setting chosen by designer Marc Figueras and Spanish publisher SNAFU to introduce us to their series of light hex and counter games called ‘Small Battles’. The game’s scale is sub-regimental, and each turn represents half a day, a logical choice for a battle of that size that gives the players a ‘mini-operational’ experience. The system makes it so that you are not focusing too much on the battle’s details. The players’ primary focus is on how resources are used to ensure, or delay, the Japanese control of critical points of the island.

For an experienced wargamer, the rules will feel obvious, even if they have a few wrinkles, such as:

  • Sticky but non-blocking ZoCs: movement is not prevented but has a higher cost.
  • Support units: engineers and HQs add a bonus for battle and rallying.
  • Interestingly flexible stacking rules: overstacking is possible rather than having a strict limit, but will provide increasing penalties.

The game’s uniqueness comes from its setting; the island of Ambon has an hourglass shape and comprises mostly rough terrain or mountains. The result is some crucial choices that both players have to make during set-up. Once the Allied player has placed their potential mines on the different possible entry points, the Japanese player will commit to their invasion plan, choosing the sequence of amphibious assaults. As winning conditions are based on when specific key locations are taken (the earlier the better for the Japanese), most planning goes into this set-up phase.

The Japanese army makes its landing

After a couple of turns, once the Japanese have disembarked and are in position, the slow grinding of Allied forces begins. The game dynamics change and the Allied player focuses on finding opportunities to slow down the Japanese advance. My favourite aspect of the game is how it depicts this progression: each objective as a token, each beachhead a number. At the end of the game, you can look at the map and see the battle’s progression as each key location taken is on the turn track. Nils Johansson’s artwork brings the game to the next level by making this little narrative on the board a joy to look at.

After a couple of hours, sometimes earlier, the battle is resolved. Often, we could see if the Japanese player would be the winner a few turns before the end-game. Ambon is not an innovative game, but what it does, it does well, and interestingly tweaks a well-established formula. If you are looking for an engaging, fast and beautiful hex and counter game on an unusual topic, look no further, this is for you.

PS: not mentioned in the game, but noteworthy, in the aftermath of the battle of Ambon, Admiral Hatakeyama ordered the massacre of more than 300 Dutch and Australian soldiers in Laha (the town next to Ambon’s airfield). An act of butchery unfortunately not unusual for the Japanese Imperial army. In 1946 this episode was the subject of a military trial for 93 Japanese personnel involved in this war crime.

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Granada: Last Stand of the Moors – 1482-1492

Compass Games, 2021

Summary: a novel, gorgeously-produced, but under-developed game on a little-explored topic.


Granada: Last Stand of the Moors – 1482-1492, by first-time wargame designer José Antonio Rivero and published by Compass Games in 2021, is one of the few boardgames to tackle the several-century-long reconquista period of Spanish history. It is also, somewhat surprisingly, the first game to reuse the pioneering system that Matt Calkins introduced in Sekigahara a decade ago. However, Granada is a longer-playing and more complex game than its mechanical predecessor.

What first attracted me to Granada – in addition to the theme and connection to Sekigahara – was the artwork and graphic design from Iván Cáceres, one of the jewels in the crown of our hobby. His design aesthetic and attention to detail can be found throughout this product, from the box cover, through the medieval style of the card illustrations, to my favourite little detail: the rat depicted on the Out of Supply markers. The physical production of the game does not let down the stunning artwork, with a good quality mounted map, a large number of wooden blocks and other pieces, 158 cards, and several pages worth of player aids on card stock.

Some of the gorgeous artwork on the cards

A quick glance at the rulebook makes clear that this is not an entry-level wargame. The core rules cover 12 pages of very small text, with an additional 3½ pages of ‘Special Rules’ and 1½ pages of rules for optional components. Although, at its heart, Granada is a relatively simple game, some of the mechanisms are not easy to learn from the rulebook, and there is a significant amount of chrome. The player aids, while comprehensive, are too wordy to be easy to use for quick reference, and suffer from having the same small font size as the rulebook.

Granada is an engaging game with interesting mechanics, offering players some tense tactical decision-making, even if the strategic options are not as broad as the map complexity and unit numbers might suggest. As such, it is a great effort for a first-time wargame designer. However, there are number of issues which detract from the play experience, and which suggest that there was not enough development by Compass Games. At a practical level: critical card information is hidden when holding the cards in hand, and unit information is difficult to quickly scan as there is not enough space on the map to easily display the blocks (or there are too many blocks). There is perhaps too much chrome, as it slows down the game without adding much to the decision space or to the atmosphere. Furthermore, I believe there are simply too many points on the map, too many units, and too many cards. Some judicious trimming of rules and components could have made Granada a more elegant and playable game.

In conclusion, Granada is a physically-impressive product that has interesting gameplay, but also some significant – and perhaps unnecessary – barriers to learning and playing.

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Iron, Blood, Snow & Mud


Summary: A quick-playing East Front game where the weather is as important as the armour


It is said that, in Russia, there are only three seasons: summer, winter, and mud.

Summer: warm and dry with temperatures reaching 30°C; winter: long, bitterly cold with temperatures plummeting far below 0°C.

Sandwiched between these two extremes is Mud. Snow melt turning open countryside and unpaved roads into a near-impassable quagmire during the thaw and again at the end of summer with the arrival of rain.

The mud seasons are known as ‘Rasputitsa’ and their impact on military campaigns in Russia is legendary. Months of mud slow the progress of advancing armies to a crawl, interrupting supply across a vast territory and leaving forces on the front lines unprepared for the harshness of winter. In 1812, the French Army of Napoleon Bonaparte experienced the full extremes of Russian weather in their march to, and eventual retreat from, Moscow, during which soldiers, exhausted, weak from hunger and exposure, simply lay down and died on the frozen ground.

The German army, during the long, bitter fighting in the years that followed the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, suffered a similar fate. Rapid early advances slowing, stopping, and then freezing as the weather took its toll on men, horses, tanks, and artillery alike.

It is against this backdrop that the forthcoming Iron, Blood, Snow and Mud, a low complexity wargame from PHALANX, asks us to lead the armies of the European Axis powers and the Soviet Union at the turning point of the Second World War. In just 90 minutes, 2-players can recreate the struggle for the Eastern Front on their gaming table. The game is available for pre-order via the Make Games Happen program. I had the opportunity to playtest it several times earlier this year.

Starting set-up – no ZOCs mean the Soviet defences should be easily breached by the Axis in turn 1

The Axis player must take advantage of the early initiative and air superiority to seize control of the key locations in the heart of the Soviet Union. Using Convoy movement to strike fast at the central cities of Kiev and Kharkov, and to Blitz onwards towards Stalingrad, the fortress city of Sevastopol and the industrialised South. In the North, Leningrad offers the chance to open a supply route into the countryside and advance into Moscow itself. To capture Stalin is to end the war early.

Meanwhile, the Soviet player must hold on in the face of the Axis onslaught.

The enemy’s rapid advance and overwhelming strength seem unstoppable; however, overstretched supply lines are easily broken, partisan’s hinder movement and, as time and attrition take their inevitable toll on the invaders, the Soviet Army grows stronger.

Armoured divisions are fearsome weapons, yet it is with the Infantry that the power lies. Effective in even the harshest conditions, they support your armour and surround the enemy, each new advantage becoming another die cast in the fight against the Axis. With enough dice and a lucky roll entire divisions can fall, and it may be possible to turn the tide of the war and counterattack into Axis territory.

However, as you fight in this world of Iron, Snow, Blood, and Mud, remember: the weather doesn’t care whose side you are on.

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