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As an elite formation of Nazi Germany, the Grossdeutschland Infantry Division was favored with the best equipment available to the Wehrmacht. It was regarded as the best unit in the German army—but it paid the price for such an honor by engaging the enemy in some of the most demanding conflicts of the war. GD helped launch operation Fall Blau (the attack on Stalingrad), fought at Kharkov, played an important part in the battle of Kursk and was a constant presence on the front until it was crippled in East Prussia, shortly before its eventual destruction at the hands of the Red Army in May of 1945.

Sixty-six years after its surrender, the fearsome Grossdeutschland is called back to action in the first volume of GMT’s new series, Fighting Formations. Designer Chad Jensen (who had previously conceived the acclaimed Combat Commander system, and who displays an apparent penchant for military alliterations) is returning to the stage for a WWII tactical encore.
This time, with tanks!

But this is NOT Combat Commander with armored vehicles. In fact, the system is completely different, and serves to show, among other things, that Jensen can think in more than one gear when it comes to the battlefield.

Fighting Formations is scenario-based, something I always love in a wargame. True, you can usually derive many different outcomes from a single deployment situation, but I find that nothing beats a host of different scenarios as far as replayability is concerned.
Luckily for me, 11 scenarios are provided with the game. Each one pits a German player against a Russian opponent in a historical battle that unfolds on one of the many hexgrid battlefields back-printed (in different sizes) on several paper maps.

At first look, FF is your regular hex & counters affair.
Movement obeys the usual rules with various movement allocations, depending on the units, and a whole array of movement costs, according to the type of terrain your unit is trying to move through. Movement costs are further subdivided to differentiate between leg, wheel and track movement.
Combat, on the surface, also follows the beaten path. Roll dice, add the firing unit’s firepower to reach an attack total, then roll dice and add the target unit’s defense value to arrive at a defense total. If the attack total is higher than the defense total, bad stuff happens.

But enough with the commonplace: strap yourselves in.

FF is definitely not your grandpa’s wargame. Jensen took the basic framework of many a wargame—game mechanics that are tried, tested & true, and have been for decades—and rebuilt the rest from scratch.
So in each box of FF, you’ll discover not one, not two, but three major innovations. Stuff that’s so good, I hope we get to see it outside of this series.

Number One: The Order Matrix
Typical wargames have opponents alternate turns until one of them attains victory.
Others use the chit-pull system, where a chit drawn from a cup indicates what unit or formation gets to act next. In Combat Commander, Chad Jensen had come up with the simple yet effective method of having each order represented by a card, and specifying within each scenario how many orders opponents could play on their respective turns.

But here, wooden cubes make an appearance. The little Eurogame expatriates are used to populate an order matrix—a list of orders, organized in one column of stacked boxes. At the start of each turn, a d10 is rolled ten times, with each roll indicating what box a cube should be placed in. When a player wants to order his units to do something, he removes one cube and gains access to the order associated with that cube, or to any other order below that same cube.

The order matrix works in tandem with an initiative track, where a pawn moves back and forth, tug-of-war style, between the two players. If the initiative pawn is on your side of the zero on the track, it’s your turn to choose an order. Once you’ve played that order—and paid the required number of initiative points—if the pawn is still on your side of the zero, you get to go again. If it’s on your opponent’s side, well, it’s his turn.
And when no more cubes are left in the matrix? Turn’s over.

It’s simple, it’s brilliant, and it gets better.
You see, orders don’t cost the same number of initiative points on both sides of the conflict. Germans, for instance, can fire for 2 points, whereas Russians are required to pay 3 for the same order. Conversely, Russians can move for only 2 points, but it’ll cost the German 3 points to do the same. This little subtlety makes it possible for one player to accept a slightly higher order cost in order to make his opponent pay through the nose for what he really needs to do—or deny him the opportunity altogether.
Also, since the matrix is reseeded with its ten cubes in a random fashion, no two turns will ever look alike.
Talk about adapting to the vagaries of combat.

Number Two: Attack Dice Sizes
Modifiers are the lifeblood of wargamers. In fact, that’s often one of the first questions I hear when teaching a wargame to new players: “And what are the combat modifiers?”
In FF, most of the combat modifiers have been baked into the dice themselves. An attack starts with a potential die roll of two 10-sided dice (2d10)… but hold on to those ten-siders for a moment, and let’s have a look at some modifiers.

Is the unit firing during an Assault (i.e. while moving)? Then the attack suffers a minus one die size. This means that you go down from 2d10 to 2d8. Is the unit firing at long range? Go down another die size, for a meek roll of 2d6.
On the flip side of the coin, a different unit could be firing into an adjacent hex, in which case it would benefit from a die size upgrade—wielding a fearsome pair of twelve-siders.

Similar results could be (and indeed have been) achieved through standard modifiers to the attack or defense total, but moving up and down the die ladder allows for two more mechanics to be baked in: hindrance and rate of fire.

Say your line of sight is crossing smoke—a hindrance of 5. You determine what dice you get to roll and get the attack going. Hindrance isn’t subtracted from your attack total: instead, if you get a result of 5 or less on any of your dice, the shot misses. In a situation like that, sliding down the die ladder hurts quite a bit.
Rate of fire—used when conducting return fire or opportunity fire—works in a similar fashion. If any of your dice show a result equal to or less than your firing unit’s rate of fire, that unit is considered spent and may not fire anymore for the rest of the current order. Again, a smaller die size will increase your chances of screwing things up.
Heck, you could hit hindrance and rate of fire in the same shot! (Not good. Ahem.)

Roleplayers have been shifting dice for ages, but this is new to the wargaming scene. And while alien at first, the concept turns out to be very simple to learn, and strangely intuitive.

Number Three: Command Markers
Leaders are not represented as units in FF. Instead, each side gets an allotment of command markers that can be played anywhere, at any time. A command marker stays on the board for two turns, after which it is put out of action for one turn before becoming available again.

On its first turn, a command marker lowers the additional cost to activate each unit in its command radius to zero. On its second turn (flip the marker), that cost is lowered to one initiative point. And considering that most out-of-command units activate for two initiative points apiece, you quickly realize that you need to keep your command markers safe if you don’t want your war machine to grind to a painful halt.


WAR PRODUCTION

It’s getting increasingly difficult to find fault with GMT’s production values.
(That last sentence reads like a bad thing, but I trust your judgment.)

Everything in FF looks great, from the maps to the cards to the counters themselves, produced in different sizes and shapes. The long tank and gun counters, in particular, make for a striking appearance, and generate enough real estate for the many bits of required information to be presented there without confusion.

I also like the hit markers very much: their size (smaller than the smallest unit counter) makes them unobtrusive, while their multiple colors makes differentiating them a breeze, even in the heat of combat.

Now you’ll always find people to complain about paper maps, but given the number of different battlefields represented in the game, this was the only viable solution. Personally, I have no problems with them. (If the forty-ish maps I have for Combat Commander were all mounted, I’d have to move to a bigger house.)
Speaking of maps, they sport large hexes just like their CC counterparts, which keeps many a stack of counters at bay. (I hate stacks.) The oversized hexes also make it easier to manage the control tokens required by many of the game’s effects (for good or bad—usually bad).

I do have three minor production gripes, though, presented here in decreasing order of importance.
Firstly, I don’t like that the melee and barrage tables are printed on the back of the player aid cards that depict the various types of terrain and other key pieces of information. We found the constant flipping disruptive. So I ended up scanning both of the reverse sides of those player aids and printing a nice two-sided barrage/melee aid—in two copies, so that my opponent and I could both look up the information during the game. I wish GMT had provided those.

Secondly, GMT ran out of dice while putting the games together. So they switched from solid-color dice to mottled dice which, although they look arguably nicer than their straight counterparts as objets d’art, become difficult to read when strewn across the battlefield. I’ll make sure to replace mine—and pick up a second set for my opponent while at I’m at it, in order to speed up the proceedings.

Thirdly, I don’t like the cover. It’s got a washed-out quality—a lack of “density”—I don’t care for. I much prefer the covers of the rulebook and playbook (especially the playbook, with deep colors and a very martial look), and either one of them would have made for a much more arresting game box cover.


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

As is becoming positively rampant, the FF rules are presented in two parts: the series rulebook, containing the core rules common to all titles of the yet-to-be-developed series, as well as the playbook where one finds a handful of exclusive rules (specific to the game at hand) in addition to the scenarios and examples of play.

Together, the two chunks of rules make up 36 pages. A sizable bite to digest, to be sure. But Jensen lives up to the rules architect reputation his work on Combat Commander and Dominant Species earned him, and presents things in a clear and concise manner. Rules questions don’t stand a chance against the combined power of the glossary found at the front of the rulebook, and the index tucked at the back of the playbook.
And that’s assuming you need to flip pages at all! Despite their being printed in a slightly awkward way, the player aids are packed with pretty much all the info you’re ever going to need to keep you going. Those layout guys did superb work there.

While the learning curve is a bit steeper than, say, Combat Commander (we just can’t avoid the comparisons…), most of the learning process has to do with the new concepts introduced in FF. One those are under your belt—and that shouldn’t take more than one pass at the introductory scenario—you’ll hit the deck running.


FUN FACTOR

In my mind, there’s no question FF is a lot of fun. But why?
• It’s a moderately complex game that’s a charm to learn, thanks in no small part to the remarkable rulebook and player aids.
• It’s gorgeous and a pleasure to spend hours gazing at.
• It’s fresh! It doesn’t come out of left field, but it does present new mechanics that widen the playground.
• It’s got a reasonable dose of unpredictability mixed in through the use of each nation’s deck of asset cards (which include Stuka attacks, rocket batteries, smoke screens and other assorted goodies).
• It “feels” right. I know this is a very personal thing, but I don’t feel like I’m playing chess here. I’m right in the field, doing my best to stay low and maneuver around that cluster of trees, trying to line up the shot…

Yet there are some things, however few and far between, that aren’t all that fun.
• For all its innovations, FF is still laden with a couple of Combat Result Tables (for melee combat and barrages). I know, I know, practically everything else has been seamlessly incorporated into the main framework, but I would have liked those two aspects of the game to have been handled as elegantly.
• Apart from the training (hypothetical) engagement, scenarios are presented in chronological order, which makes for a strange curve in the complexity, game time, and counter density departments. I suspect most players will want to start with the smaller, simpler scenarios and work they way up, so I’m puzzled by a scenario arrangement that forces new players to jump around and try to gage what their next battle should be.
• It is a long game. Not overly long—not by a long shot! (We’re talking about wargames, remember.) But those expecting the sort of CC-ish “let’s play two scenarios tonight” duration are in for a shock. Current reports suggest that short scenarios take three hours to complete, while the longer ones require upwards of seven hours to reach a conclusion. This might be a showstopper for some.
• The game is really tough on the Soviets. A foregone conclusion, perhaps, considering the subject matter of the series’ first installment. Still, you and your wargaming buddy playing through the entire game without switching sides might not be the best course of action. Unless one of you has morale to spare. Or maybe the special kind of motivation only the Commissar could muster.


PARTING SHOTS

Fighting Formations is my current obsession. My only reason for hating the game is that it takes time away from our usual go-to game, Combat Commander.

Oh, one last thing. One of my favorite features is the single optional rule in the entire game: event chits. Draw one at the end of every turn, and implement its effect. We never play a game without them.

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Kai Jensen
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Well written, sir! Thanks for putting in the time and effort to write up your impressions, likes and dislikes.
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Thanks for the review, Francis! I'm glad you like the game.

A couple clarifications, if I may:

Quote:
reports suggest that short scenarios take three hours to complete, while the longer ones require upwards of seven hours to reach a conclusion.

While true for most of the scenarios, I'd add that the monster scenario (#2) will likely eat up an entire long weekend.

Quote:
The game is really tough on the Soviets. A foregone conclusion, perhaps, considering the subject matter of the series’ first installment.

As far as I know, the Soviets have exactly the same chance of winning a scenario in this game as the Germans. At least that's what our playtesting indicated.

I want to make it clear that I did not slant results in favor of the "featured" unit in any way, and I won't for future titles in the series either. Any slant in FF games will appear solely in the quantity of historical information presented (for example, scenario sitreps will likely be from the featured formation's point of view; Orders of Battle will be for the featured unit only and not for their adversaries; etc).
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pitferret wrote:
Well written, sir! Thanks for putting in the time and effort to write up your impressions, likes and dislikes.


I second that!
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Jean-Luc Simard
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Chad Jensen wrote:
Quote:
The game is really tough on the Soviets. A foregone conclusion, perhaps, considering the subject matter of the series’ first installment.

As far as I know, the Soviets have exactly the same chance of winning a scenario in this game as the Germans. At least that's what our playtesting indicated.

I want to make it clear that I did not slant results in favor of the "featured" unit in any way, and I won't for future titles in the series either. Any slant in FF games will appear solely in the quantity of historical information presented (for example, scenario sitreps will likely be from the featured formation's point of view; Orders of Battle will be for the featured unit only and not for their adversaries; etc).


That might be the case with experience, but Francis and I got slaughtered playing the Soviets in our scenarios so far (four, five of them?), hence his comment. Now I do think we are getting better at understanding their strengths and weaknesses, but so far we found the Soviets to be undergunned and undercommanded in the scenarios that we played.

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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Chad Jensen wrote:
Thanks for the review, Francis! I'm glad you like the game.

A couple clarifications, if I may:

Quote:
reports suggest that short scenarios take three hours to complete, while the longer ones require upwards of seven hours to reach a conclusion.

While true for most of the scenarios, I'd add that the monster scenario (#2) will likely eat up an entire long weekend.

Duly noted!
I'm actually looking forward to playing that one...
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Jaels wrote:
Chad Jensen wrote:
Quote:
The game is really tough on the Soviets. A foregone conclusion, perhaps, considering the subject matter of the series’ first installment.

As far as I know, the Soviets have exactly the same chance of winning a scenario in this game as the Germans. At least that's what our playtesting indicated.

I want to make it clear that I did not slant results in favor of the "featured" unit in any way, and I won't for future titles in the series either. Any slant in FF games will appear solely in the quantity of historical information presented (for example, scenario sitreps will likely be from the featured formation's point of view; Orders of Battle will be for the featured unit only and not for their adversaries; etc).


That might be the case with experience, but Francis and I got slaughtered playing the Soviets in our scenarios so far (four, five of them?), hence his comment. Now I do think we are getting better at understanding their strengths and weaknesses, but so far we found the Soviets to be undergunned and undercommanded in the scenarios that we played.


What he said.

In fact, it's also what Mike Sherwood's AAR Repository suggests.
But I'm eager to play the Soviets more and learn from my many, many mistakes.
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Peter Appleton
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weishaupt wrote:

• Apart from the training (hypothetical) engagement, scenarios are presented in chronological order, which makes for a strange curve in the complexity, game time, and counter density departments. I suspect most players will want to start with the smaller, simpler scenarios and work they way up, so I’m puzzled by a scenario arrangement that forces new players to jump around and try to gage what their next battle should be.


I think this was the biggest misstep in the production. IMO Scenarios should always follow a sequential learning curve rather than being chronologically sequential (Chad managed to sort the CC scenarios in complexity order in CCE and CCP...).

It would be nice if Chad could come up with a quick suggested scenario order in terms of complexity for us. At the moment we're limited to checking out the all the scenarios and guesstimating length, complexity etc when searching for our next game.
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weishaupt wrote:

Number Two: Attack Dice Sizes

Roleplayers have been shifting dice for ages, but this is new to the wargaming scene.


Very nice review but just to give credit where (possibly) due, Piquet did this many years ago...I don't know that even Piquet was the first though.
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Chadwik
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TeufelHund wrote:
It would be nice if Chad could come up with a quick suggested scenario order in terms of complexity for us.

Try:
0
9
8
4
7
6
5
3
1
10
2
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That was easy.
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GamePlayer wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Number Two: Attack Dice Sizes

Roleplayers have been shifting dice for ages, but this is new to the wargaming scene.


Very nice review but just to give credit where (possibly) due, Piquet did this many years ago...I don't know that even Piquet was the first though.


Manoeuver (also from GMT) does this as well if I am not mistaken?

Regardless it is one of my favorite optimizations in this game. So much simpler than adding yet another modifier!

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Chuck Parrott
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GamePlayer wrote:
weishaupt wrote:

Number Two: Attack Dice Sizes

Roleplayers have been shifting dice for ages, but this is new to the wargaming scene.


Very nice review but just to give credit where (possibly) due, Piquet did this many years ago...I don't know that even Piquet was the first though.


Piquet (mid 90's) was the first game I ran across that shifted die sizes as an alternative to modifiers and like you, I'm not sure if it was the first. I played an obscure sci-fi boardgame back in the 70's that used different die sizes to represent different ship weapons more akin to what RPG's do. It came out about the same time as 1st ed D&D so the polyhedral dice were kind of a new thing then, or at least what I knew of gaming at the time.
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John McLintock
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adorablerocket wrote:
Manoeuver (also from GMT) does this as well if I am not mistaken?

Regardless it is one of my favorite optimizations in this game. So much simpler than adding yet another modifier!

I don't think Manoeuvre uses dice shifts as such, just different polyhedrals to differentiate unit attack strength.

And I played my first game this afternoon. The dice rolling itself wasn't the time sink which I'd feared and the shifts were very easy to remember. So all in all the dice system was very slick in play.

Also: Chad has mentioned I'm sure somewhere that there's no way to get to 2d20. What about a Pionier platoon firing in melee? That's +2D; ie. 2d10 to 2d20. And yes, it hurt.
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Richard Pardoe
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JMcL63 wrote:
Also: Chad has mentioned I'm sure somewhere that there's no way to get to 2d20. What about a Pionier platoon firing in melee? That's +2D; ie. 2d10 to 2d20. And yes, it hurt.


I thought that was related to Direct Fire - no way to roll 2D20 for a Direct Fire attack as there is only the +1D for adjacency.

2D20 in melee? Anytime an infantry (or gun) platoon attacks a vehicle in town or woods (ie in column).
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John McLintock
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I stand corrected. Cheers Richard.
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JMcL63 wrote:
adorablerocket wrote:
Manoeuver (also from GMT) does this as well if I am not mistaken?

Regardless it is one of my favorite optimizations in this game. So much simpler than adding yet another modifier!

I don't think Manoeuvre uses dice shifts as such, just different polyhedrals to differentiate unit attack strength.


I stand corrected. Cheers! :-)
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Christopher O
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The Serenity Role Playing Game uses shiftable die sizes with the Cortex RPG system. Seemed interesting to read about but I never found players to play it in my area.
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John McLintock
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Kozure wrote:
The Serenity Role Playing Game uses shiftable die sizes with the Cortex RPG system. Seemed interesting to read about but I never found players to play it in my area.

It was my knowledge of this system which initially made me leery of the dice shift mechanic in FF. I think the mechanic works much better in FF than it does in the Cortex RPG.
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