Zvezda’s Art of Tactic game system is a rules framework for tactical wargaming. In it, both sides issue orders at the start of the turn for a force of plastic models on a hex map, and then resolve those orders simultaneously. The system is now used in several settings to create separate games – World War II (in “Barbarossa 1941”), feudal Japan (“Samurai Battles”), and most recently this alternate-1990s battle for oil between the forces of the United States and Soviet Union: Hot War.

I’ve previously reviewed several of Zvezda’s WW2 games using the Art of Tactic system – the original Barbarossa starter box, the Battle for the Danube expansion, and the Tank Combat mini-game. Here I review Battle for Oil, which is the starter box for the Hot War system. In it I’ll try to answer three questions:

1. How does the Hot War starter set play as a stand-alone game?

2. How does the Hot War system look going forward, as new units are added to use the available rules that didn’t see use in the Battle for Oil starter set?

3. How does Hot War stack up against the WW2 Barbarossa series, which looks very similar?


I’ve structured this long review as follows:

.....A. Overview
.....B. Components
.....C. Gameplay
.....D. Unit attributes and balance
.....E. Mechanics of attack and defense
.....F. Conclusions I: Evaluating the starter set on its own
.....G. Conclusions II: Evaluating the Hot War system and future prospects

A. Overview
In Hot War, two players pit 1990s-era forces of the United States and the Soviet Union in combat amidst an unnamed oil-rich desert. The game is played with plastic figures representing infantry, armoured vehicles, tanks, and helicopters on a hex map dotted with sandy terrain and villages. The main rules spell out all of the mechanics of the game system (movement, combat, etc.). A game of Hot War consists of playing out one a half-dozen scenarios provided in the box, using the forces it specifies to fulfil its particular objectives. You’ll need to set aside an evening or two to assemble the models that come in the starter set; but after that, you can play your first game in a few hours, and later games in 2-3 hours depending on the size of the scenario.

In the Battle for Oil box you get two sets of roughly mirror-image forces. Each side gets three squads of infantry, three armoured personnel carriers (classified as armoured vehicles for the Soviets, light tanks for the Americans), one tank, and one helicopter. Not all forces are used in all scenarios. Also, there are a few differences between the capabilities of similar units on each side, so it’s not just a case of identical units with different flags.

A GAME OF HOT WAR: BATTLE FOR OIL UNDERWAY


There are other games of tactical combat out there, and naturally Hot War shares some common features; often there is one attacker and one defender, with the defender camped on some strategic hexes that the attacker must seize. The attacker must approach the defender, use long range fire to soften up and suppress those forces, and often close in to finish off the weakened defender with an assault to seize an objective hex.

What sets Hot War apart (and this is true of all the Art of Tactic games) are:

i. UNIT CARDS: Each unit on the board has its own laminated unit card that spells out its capabilities, and on which you record damage, track ammunition usage, and issue orders.

ii. COMMITTING TO ORDERS IN ADVANCE: Each turn starts with issuing an order to each of your units, marking one of the available order icons on the back of the unit card and keeping it face-down until all orders have been issued. Orders are very specific: not just “I shoot”, but “I shoot at target X”. Movement orders specify a hex-by-hex path. Once all orders have been issued, you flip all cards for both sides to reveal what each unit is doing that turn.

iii. SIMULTANEOUS RESOLUTION: Then both players resolve all orders SIMULTANEOUSLY. There is a sequence of orders – you resolve Defend orders first, Open Fire orders next, etc. – but for any given order, units from both sides resolve that order at the same time.

Committing to orders at the start of the turn, before you know what the others side is doing, opens opportunities for bluffing, surprise, and generally trying to outwit your opponent by doing something he’s not expecting or prepared for, or (conversely) by anticipating what your opponent will do and issuing orders to thwart that plan. The basic system of Hot War is good, and I’ll provide more details on that later – but this orders phase is the essence of the game, and the moment when both sides reveal their orders for the coming turn is usually tense and filled with anticipation as you see whether you’ve guessed the enemy’s plans correctly, or if he has seen through your own gambits.

All in all I really enjoy this part of the Art of Tactic system, and it’s implemented in fine form in Hot War. The only strike against the game is that the starter set alone is a bit bland with a limited set of units; lots of the rules in the game simply don’t come into play yet, and there’s a lot of potential in the system unexplored. But as new units become available (and several are planned for 2014) and the forces get more fleshed out, new rules will come into play (Resupply! Artillery! Chemical weapon attacks!) and I think the game will really find its feet.

The Battle for Oil box costs about $80 here in Canada, and is brimming with lots of cool models and quality components; very good value for the money. I can happily recommend picking up the starter now if it interests you, so that you can play out the available scenarios and forces. Then you'll be ready to add more flavour with additional units once they hit the stores this year (and some of which are already available).

And now, we delve into different aspects of the game in more detail.

B. Components
I’ll take a moment to talk about the components in the Battle for Oil starter box.

CONTENTS OF HOT WAR: BATTLE FOR OIL


Note: unlike this picture, the models come unpainted and unassembled. I kind of messed up and lost my original "out of the box" photo and had to reconstruct it.

Models: There’s one thing that everyone mentions in any review of the Art of Tactic games, and Hot War is no exception: the models that come with the game are real scale military models, very nicely detailed, but they come in the form of small parts attached to plastic sprues that you must clip out and assemble. You’ll need a hobby knife (better yet, sprue clippers) to get the parts off the sprues. Some parts are very tiny. You don’t need glue, since the parts all snap snugly together; but I still recommend using some since the models will see a lot of handling during play.

I’m both a miniatures gamer and a WW2 aficionado, so this is right up my alley and a strong feature of the system; I have a lot of fun assembling and painting the units, and their quality makes that effort worthwhile. But if you’re less enamored of miniatures, you may find this part tedious. The vehicles aren’t so bad – pieces for the armoured vehicles and tanks are relatively few and large, so they go together quickly. Infantry are tiny and more complicated, and the helicopters have many pieces.

But if you find the system I describe here interesting, I’d encourage you to bite the bullet and put aside a couple of evenings to assemble the models so you can get this game onto the table. To break the effort into manageable chunks, maybe pick a scenario ahead of time and just concentrate on putting together the models that it requires at first, and leave the rest for later.

In short: these are really great models with lots of detail, easy to put together, but can be time consuming. And if models aren’t your cup of tea, this part is just a necessary hurdle to plan for and get past before you play your first game.

Since the models have such high quality and the effort to assemble them is understood and intentional, I give the models a solid A for succeeding so well at what they’re trying to do – provide a much more visually satisfying playing piece than a cardboard counter!

Unit cards: There’s a laminated card for every unit in the box. Each card is about the size of a typical playing card, and these cards do a great job of summarizing each unit’s unique set of capabilities and the orders available to it. This is great, because you can tell by looking at the order icons on the back of the card exactly what the unit can do. Cards are laminated so that you can mark orders using the dry-erase markers supplied with the game, and on the front of the card you mark casualties, status, and ammunition usage.

AMERICAN UNIT CARDS


SOVIET UNIT CARDS


With Battle for Oil you also get cards to track the damage inflicted on bridges, villages and oilfields, which degrade with each “wound”; a card to track river current and wind direction as well as turn tracking; and other record-keeping cards for groups of units, minefields, etc.

Some real effort has been put into making the unit cards clean and easy to decipher; I give them an A.

Game boards: The double-sided game boards are printed on sturdy cardboard. The artwork is great; several steps up from the old Squad Leader boards for example, and much like those used in Tide of Iron. (You can see them in one configuration in the first picture in this review.) The game also comes with a set of overlay hexes that are printed with unique terrain that you can place on the board to create new configurations, and stackable plastic hexes about 1/4" high to represent various terrain elevations on the board.

Now that the humid summer is just about upon us, I am seeing the boards warp just a tiny bit; but the game comes with plastic clips to hold the boards together during play and I'm finding that these still keep the boards flat and tidy.

The only thing that could improve the boards is if they were as over-thick as the Tide of Iron boards; so I give the boards an A (where Tide of Iron would get an A+).

Rules: Zvezda is a Russian company so it relies on translators to create and proofread its English rulebook. This presented some significant issues with some of the WW2 rules, but the Hot War rules show improvement (though they’re still imperfect). Some ambiguities are tidied up with tighter language, although other areas (particularly timing questions regarding smoke screens) could use a FAQ from Zvezda sometime. I’ve posted some questions in the Hot War rules form here on BGG and will continue to do so if other things arise.

I’ll give the rulebook a B+, compared to Barbarossa’s B-. The accompanying Player Aid, which summarizes major rules and explains various icons, does a good job and scores an A.

Scenarios: The scenario book comes with six scenarios which use various force mixes and present players with a variety of objectives. The scenarios make good use of the available forces, seem reasonably balanced, offer a range of turn lengths and force mixes, and try to provide a backstory in each case. A overall linking narrative might have been handy as well since there’s no real explanation given in the game for the outbreak of a shooting war between the two nations. I give the scenario book an A-.

Tutorial scenario: A simple and brief scenario designed to teach the game basics, this one features just one American infantry squad and a tank defending a village against two Soviet squads, their armoured vehicle, and a helicopter. Several pages are devoted to showing three sample turns to provide examples of the turn sequence, marking and executing orders, movement and combat (including the helicopter), and tracking ammunition supply. A good illustration for people new to the system.

Scenario 1: Assault. 12 turns, medium forces. Entrenched Americans defend a large village against Soviet attackers. Victory is achieved by a combination of enemies killed, and points awarded for each hex of the village you occupy.

Scenario 2: Dividing the Land. 15 turns, full forces (you use every unit you get in the box, entering in stages on turns 1, 3, and 6; helicopters can only make one flight so are out of the game once they expend their fuel and ammunition). Both forces enter the board from opposite edges, and both strive to occupy a large village roughly in the center. Victory is achieved by a combination of enemies killed, and points awarded if you are the sole occupant of the village.

Scenario 3: Battle for Oil. 10 turns, medium forces. Soviets hold two oilfield hexes; American forces must take the oilfields. Victory is achieved by a combination of enemies killed, and points awarded for each oilfield you control. The oilfields are destructible…

Scenario 4: River Crossing. 12 turns, major forces. Entrenched Americans control a village on a riverbank; Soviets must cross the river and seize the village. Victory is achieved by a combination of enemies killed, and points awarded for each village hex you control.

Scenario 5: Traitor. 10 turns, major forces. An American turncoat is hidden in one of three Soviet infantry squads (the Soviet player marks the squad secretly; the Americans don’t know which of the three squads contains the agent). The Soviets must cross the board and exit the spy off the opposite edge (their helicopter will meet them halfway to take on the vital passengers). American interception forces start concealed between the Soviets and their objectives. Victory is determined by whether the agent exits the board on the Soviet helicopter, or not.

In addition to the scenarios in the book, you’re free to make up your own; each unit has a point cost, and so you should in principle be able to create two balanced forces by giving each player equal point values. That will come in handy when you supplement the starter set’s forces with new units bought separately, especially new unit types as they’re released later this year.

Also, Zvezda has posted a couple of new scenarios on its website that feature the new AA and AT missile squads that came out earlier this year:

http://www.hotwar1990.com/files/first_contact_eng.pdf

http://www.hotwar1990.com/files/the-storm-rises.pdf

C. Gameplay
As I mentioned in the Overview, Hot War uses the Art of Tactic system in which players commit to orders at the start of each turn and then resolve orders in sequence; but for a given order, both sides resolve its effects simultaneously. The turn is broken into the following phases, based on possible orders:

1. Defend: Units on both sides with this order enter trenches (if available in their hex), and prepare to fire at enemies that move later in the turn. Each Defending unit specifies a facing, and a range in hexes; during Assault or Movement, the unit must fire at the first enemy unit that moves into range in the specified arc. All defending units also gain a small (+1) defensive bonus.

2. Open Fire: Units on both sides fire at the specific enemy unit specified in the Open Fire order (by the number on its flag).

3. Assault: Units on both sides with this order move up to their Assault range (one hex for infantry, two for vehicles) and enter an enemy hex to start close combat. Units moving here may suffer attacks from enemies with the Defend order.

4. Ambush: Units on both sides with this order do everything associated with the Defend order, but are also removed from the game board; the opponent must remember where the unit is, and cannot fire at the unit while it is hidden.

5. Special orders: This is a catch-all for a variety of unit actions, some of which are available to the units in the starter box but many of which won’t see use in this basic form of the game. Receiving supplies (ammunition), infantry donning protection against chemical attacks, removing barbed wire, laying or removing landmines… all of which will have uses down the road as the game expands (and, for example, units with chemical attacks enter the game.)

6. Movement (including Move and Fire): Last in the turn, units move on the board. The distance in hexes that each unit can move depends on the unit type (vehicles are faster than infantry, and helicopters are very fast with special movement rules), the specific movement order issued to the unit (moving and firing reduces movement, for example); and terrain bonuses or penalties (all units gain some extra movement if they use a road for the whole turn; some terrain costs extra movement points to enter).

0. Unique order - Smoke Screens: Hot War introduces the ability of some units to deploy their own smoke screens once per game in conjunction with performing any other regular order. The Smoke Screen order is available to all of the ground vehicles in the game, and the Soviet T-72 heavy tank has a special rule allowing it to deploy smoke in up to two hexes that it moves through in the turn. Smoke blocks line of sight, prevents units from inside it from executing orders or being the target of enemy orders, and usually lasts for three turns. If you’re using wind rules in the scenario, the smoke can spread before it dissipates. This gives units a powerful one-shot defensive option, which could be game-changing under the right circumstance (imagine securing an objective hex with two turns to go in the game, and deploying smoke to make yourself immune to attack until the game ends).

D. Unit attributes and balance
The Battle for Oil starter set comes with five unit types that have a fuzzy rock/paper/scissors relationship.

(NOTE: The models come unpainted and unassembled, still on sprues in the box; but they're detailed enough to reward some effort painting them up, so I've included pictures of my finished units here.)

Infantry: Each side gets three squads of basic infantry. These are cheap units that can hold and defend an area, but can’t really affect anything but other infantry. (Infantry can Assault a vehicle that is foolish enough to enter one of the terrain types that allow it and linger in range of an infantry assault; but there’s seldom a reason to risk this when staying in the open ensures that vehicles are completely immune to infantry attacks.) Infantry are sort of “objective capturing markers” whose primary role is trying to hang onto the objective hexes and resist what the enemy throws at them.

SOVIET INFANTRY


AMERICAN INFANTRY


Armoured vehicles: The three Soviet BTR-80 personnel carriers are classified as Armoured Vehicles in the game. They’re lightly armoured, but fast and have a respectable firepower against anything (including helicopters) except for heavy tanks, which they cannot affect at all. These are the versatile workhorse units of the Soviet roster, able to shuttle infantry about the board, threaten almost any enemy unit, and they’re even amphibious so rivers pose no obstacle. Plus, I really like the models.

SOVIET APCS


Light tanks: The three Bradley APCs are classified as Light Tanks in the game, and these American workhorses serve the same role as the Soviet BTR-80. They carry troops across the board, have slightly higher firepower than the BTR-80, and their classification as Light Tanks makes them a little more resilient in the face of enemy attacks compared to the Soviet armoured vehicles. Plus, they can actually affect heavy tanks.

AMERICAN LIGHT TANKS


Heavy tanks: both sides get one Heavy Tank: the T-72 for the Soviets and the M1A1 Abrams for the Americans. These powerful units have lots of armour and enormous firepower, and are immune to attack by anything but enemy tanks and helicopters (or assaulting infantry in certain terrain). However they cannot attack helicopters or other air units at all, so remain vulnerable to helicopters in particular.

AMERICAN AND SOVIET HEAVY TANKS


Helicopters: both sides get one helicopter: the Soviet Mi-24V and the American Apache. A sort of elite unit and key problem solver, the helicopter poses a significant threat to any unit in the game (including the enemy helicopter). However each has limited fuel, and more critically can only make three attacks before it will run out of ammunition. At that point it must exit the board to resupply and can’t return until three turns later. You’ll need to plan your helicopter deployment and select its targets carefully.

AMERICAN AND SOVIET HELICOPTERS


Additional units: Zvezda sells all of the units that come in the starter set separately; so you can add more infantry, vehicles, and even helicopters to the game if you’re inclined. Infantry units cost about $5 each here in Canada; vehicles about $12; and the helicopters around $18.

In addition to the units that appeared in the starter box, there are already additional units available which expands infantry's their role in the game (with machine gun, AA missile, and AT missile squads for both sides -- the Soviet AT missile squad comes out this month).

Future units: More infantry and several more vehicles show in Zvezda's 2014 catalog as planned for release later in 2014. I deal with those at the end of this review, when looking ahead to the future prospects for the Hot War game system.

E. Mechanics of attack and defense
Okay, so with all that description over with – how does combat work? This is a defining feature of a tactical game, so it’s worth describing just how units interact on the board.

Attack: The front of each unit card shows its Range (the distance in hexes it can shoot), Accuracy (the number or less the unit needs to roll on a d6 to hit at each range), and Firepower (the number of dice the unit rolls when attacking).

Range and Accuracy don’t change in the course of the game, but the Firepower varies based on two things: the type of unit you’re shooting at, and the shooter’s current unit strength (i.e. the number of “wounds” the unit has suffered). So, for example, a full-strength Bradley will roll 17 dice when attacking infantry, but just 8 dice against a heavy tank. After taking one casualty, the Bradley will roll 13 and 5 dice; after a second casualty, 9 and 2 dice; and a third casualty destroys the Bradley and removes it from the game.

So let’s say the Bradley is shooting at a Soviet Infantry unit that has taken cover in a village three hexes away. That’s within the Bradley’s range, but at that range each die of Firepower will hit only on a 2 or less. (If the Soviet squad was adjacent, the Bradley would hit on 3s or less; if four hexes away, the Bradley would hit only with 1s.) Against infantry, a full-strength Bradley rolls 17 dice; and since it needs 2s or less we can expect it to hit with about 1/3 of its dice, or roughly 6 hits.

Defense: Every unit has an innate Defense value, which is the number of hits it can shrug off before taking casualties. The Soviet infantry squad has a Defense of just 1 (in contrast, the Bradley has a Defense of 2; the M1A1 Abrams has a Defense of 4.) But units can augment their defense in several ways:

- The terrain the unit is in can confer bonuses (and in fact an intact village gives Infantry +3 defense, and other units +2).

- Fortifications can grant further Defense bonuses (a trench would grant a further +2, but there’s none in this example).

- A unit with the Defend order gains an additional +1 defense (and our squad in this example is indeed Defending this turn).

So the Soviet squad has a defense of 1 (innate) + 3 (for the village) +1 (for the Defend order) = 5. Let’s assume the Bradley does roll 6 hits; that just enough to overcome the squad’s defense value and inflict one casualty.

A standard Infantry squad starts with a unit strength (“wounds”) of five; so the Soviet player would mark one wound on the squad. Since the squad has suffered a casualty, it must take a morale test (called a Fortitude test in Art of Tactic). The infantry squad’s starting Fortitude is 8, and its unit card tells us that this drops by 1 for each casualty suffered; so the Soviet squad must roll a 7 or less on two dice or become Suppressed. A Suppressed unit will abandon all cover, and cannot act for the remainder of the turn. It can try to recover at the start of the following turn by making another Fortitude test, and if it succeeds it will be able to act normally that turn.

The Defense value of a unit will reset to full at the start of the following turn, but it does NOT “regenerate” between attacks. As a result, the Soviet squad that just lost one casualty now has a Defense value of 0; and further attacks in the same turn will inflict casualties directly with each hit, without having to overcome its Defense value again. This makes combined attacks very effective in Hot War, and concentrating fire is a key tactic in the game.

Destructible terrain: Finally, Hot War introduces destructible terrain to the Art of Tactic system. When a unit that can affect “installation” target types (villages, bridges, oil fields) shoots at a unit in such a hex, the dice that miss the target have a chance to hit the installation instead. In this case, the Bradley missed with 11 of its 17 attacks; however the Bradley unit card tells us that its Firepower against installations is 3, so only 3 of those dice will be used to attack the village. The Bradley rerolls three of its missed attacks; any of those three dice that roll 2 or less (the Bradley’s Accuracy that this range) will damage the village, reducing its defensive bonus to the infantry in that hex.

As a result of this rule, defenders in objective hexes will have a rough time in the long term. All of the ground vehicles in the game can roll up to 3 dice vs. installations, but helicopters can roll up to 7.

Villages have no innate defense value to protect themselves from fire, so each hit degrades the village directly. A village's defensive benefit to occupying units decreases by one for each “wound”; after three wounds, the village is destroyed. Oilfields have an innate Defense of 1, and are destroyed after three wounds. Bridges have an innate Defense of 2, are also destroyed after three wounds, and also after suffering one or two casualties (depending on the type of bridge) lose the ability to support the weight of heavy tanks. I think this is a cool mechanic that makes the battlefield a little more dynamic and interesting. Plus, a card provided in the game allows you to track the current "hit poins" of every installation printed on the board.

F. Conclusions I: Evaluating the starter set on its own
I’ve already played a lot of the WW2 games in the Art of Tactic system, so trying out Hot War was a familiar experience. All of the good parts of the system are still in play – the orders phase, trying to outguess your opponent, limited ammunition, manoeuver and seizing objectives. It’s been fun to play with modern units for a change (helicopters are just cool) and I like the small additions to the system with destructible terrain.

The one thing that struck me was that, due to the understandable limitations on what can be crammed into a single starter box, there are a lot of rules in the game that never see any use; with no trucks (or supply depots) there’s no resupply for units; there are no units that can lay or remove minefields, and no chemical attacks (although the game does come with enticing “green cloud” markers for chemical hexes, and infantry have access to protective gear that has interesting effects on their abilities and morale). There is the foundation of something really fun here once some of these other rules come into play.

The game is also curiously lacking a strong narrative theme; it’s not clear exactly how 1990 went differently enough to cause a shooting war to break out. This is really a minor quibble, and it has no effect on gameplay; but I’d kind of like to know the situation and the stakes a little more, so my little soldiers are fighting over something other than anonymous oilfields and villages. I noticed that there’s more of this information on the Hot War website (http://www.hotwar1990.com/), though, and I’ll have to go look more closely and see what’s up there.

So. If the starter box had just come out and there was no immediate prospect for new units, then based solely on what comes in the box I’d give Hot War an overall grade of B+. The game is fun, but with the limited role for infantry and the short roster of available units, the tactical options are few and eventually play does get a bit repetitive. Battle for Oil does a very good job for a starter set; it's just that it comes with some of the natural limitations of a starter set taken on its own.

But happily, there are several new units in the Zvezda catalog that seem to make this a good year overall for Hot War. Which brings us to…

G. Conclusions II: Evaluating the Hot War system and future prospects
Zvezda has already shown good support for the game by releasing new infantry kits in the early part of 2014. I’ve already picked up a Machine Gun squad for both the Americans and Soviets, plus two Anti-Aircraft missile squads for each side and an Anti-Tank missiles squad for the Americans. (The Soviet AT squad comes out later this month.)

These units are a big deal, because they mean that infantry finally pose a threat at range to the vehicles that want to evict them from objective hexes. I haven’t got these new units to the table yet, but looking at their unit cards I can see how they will act like the AT and AA guns in the WW2 game -- but in the hands of infantry and without needing towing or deployment/withdrawal. They can be vulnerable like any infantry, but particularly when hidden in Ambush should give attackers real headaches. Very cool.

Other units promised in the 2014 catalog are:

- recon infantry for both sides,

- trucks for both sides (so at last a means for non-helicopter units to resupply with ammunition),

- self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicles for both sides, and

- self-propelled artillery for both sides.

I’m not sure what their capabilities are, but I’m kind of hoping those artillery units can fire chemical shells…

Not only that, but somewhere down the road we can expect still more units; the game includes target types for Light Aircraft and Heavy Aircraft units which we haven't seen yet but should make an interesting addition to the game. I'm very curious to see how those are inserted into the system.

So, with the prospect of new units coming soon to flesh out the game, my feeling is that before the year is out I’ll promote Hot War from its already respectable B+ out of the box to a strong A. In the meantime, if the modern weapons and the Art of Tactic system interest you, I think you’d be well served to pick up a copy of Hot War now and extract some fun out of the basic units, and then expand the game later this year when the new stuff comes out.

FINAL VERDICT:

- A RESPECTABLE "B+" FOR THE STARTER BOX ALONE;

- PROMOTION TO "A-" WITH THE ADDITION OF NEW INFANTRY TYPES NOW AVAILABLE;

- AND PENDING A SOLID "A" ONCE NEW UNITS IN THE 2014 CATALOG ARE AVAILABLE FOR USE IN THE GAME.


Up next: for the benefit of people familiar with the Barbarossa WW2 game, I’ll add a post here in the next day or two spelling out exactly what’s different between the two sets of rules, and the changes they make to the feel of the game system.

EDIT: To keep things tidy I've posted my rules comparison in a separate thread in the Rules section, HERE.
17 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ubergeek
United States
Washougal
Washington
flag msg tools
Be Happy in your Game!
badge
I spent 100 Geek Gold and all I got was this lousy overtext message!
Avatar
Microbadge: Big City fanMicrobadge: The Lord of the Rings fanMicrobadge: Star Wars: Rebellion fanMicrobadge: I'm imaginary!Microbadge: Zombie State Games “Scavenger” Contest participant
Excellent review. Awesome paint jobs as well. Kudos.

I've got a lot of their WWII and Samurai series. I hate assembling the models but as you addressed, they're a mini gamers dream for those who enjoy that type of effort. They are very detailed models though somewhat fragile.

My big concern with this game is the range of fire for units, especially for the helicopters which should be able to reach out and touch anyone, anywhere on the board. I guess for the vehicles you could mitigate the issue with terrain and die modifiers as you mentioned.

Thanks for the in-depth look and comparisons. Very helpful.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lance McMillan
United States
Lakebay
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Victory Point Games fanMicrobadge: Napoleonic 20 fan - FrenchMicrobadge: Star Borders: Humanity fanMicrobadge: Frank Chadwick fanMicrobadge: US Naval officer
This isn't meant as a criticism of your review, but sort of a philosophical question regarding the actual game's intent (and, as a side note, I neither own nor have played the game -- the comments which follow are based solely on what I've read in this and other forums about the game).

When I first saw the promotional ads for this game I was somewhat intrigued, thinking that it would be interesting to see a Russian take on the classic US-vs-Soviet match up from the Cold War. But the more I've read about the game the more it appears that the basic goal of the "game" is really just as a mechanism to sell Zvezda's minis.

The rules/game play strike me as uninspired -- they're neither innovative or particularly "accurate." The system doesn't make allowances for command and control, there's no effort to show the disparity between Soviet quality and US quantity that was (purportedly) one of the hallmarks of the period, and there doesn't appear to have been any effort made to capture either the fog-of-war or chaos of the modern battlefield. The impression I come away with is that this is just sort of an odd hybrid of the venerable AH 'Panzerblitz' and GW's 'Warhammer 40K.'

So, with the full understanding that Zvezda is first-and-foremost a plastic model (not a game) company, let me ask you this:

= If 'Battle for Oil' had cardboard counters (like a "classic" wargame) instead of minis, would you still have given it the same grades? What if, instead of the hard plastic scale models it had soft plastic "toy" figures like 'Memoir 44,' would it still have the same appeal?

= The price point for the game seems quite high, especially so since you note that the starter box alone really doesn't convey the full potential of the game (e.g. it sounds like you almost have to buy additional figures to get the full experience). Would customers have been better served if Zvezda had included more minis (and a wider variety of unit types) in the starter game, or is there sufficient replayability in the starter set to justify the high buy-in cost?



5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
@Lance: Those are good questions, and Ubergeek touched upon something similar when commenting that in real life, on this scale helicopters should perhaps be able to hit anything on the board rather than being limited to a few hexes' range.

The answers, and how satisfactory you find them, really depend on what kind of game experience you're looking for.

I don't think the Art of Tactic games are aiming for complete realism or to embody the strategic factors you mention, so you're right that Hot War wouldn't hold up well as a deeply-considered simulation of a modern battlefield.

What they do try for -- and here I think they succeed -- is to give players contexts in which to solve tactical puzzles with very approximate, yet reasonably balanced and familiar game units. Art of Tactic provides a core system that hinges on order planning and simultaneous execution, and then makes fun games that put that system to work in different contexts. I suspect that the T-72 and M1A1 heavy tanks are less evenly balanced in real life than they're presented in Hot War, which would constitute simulation failure -- but I also find that they serve their roles well as fairly balanced and mutually threatening units within the Hot War force mix, and for me that's a game success.

I'm actually a longtime Warhammer player (both Fantasy and, to a lesser degree, 40K), and there's no question that this colours my own approach to Zvezda's Hot War and the WW2 Barbarossa games. You're not completely off the mark when you suggest this has aspects of PanzerBlitz (own it!) and 40K, except that PanzerBlitz used the traditional IGO-UGO system that's anathema to Art of Tactic, and you shouldn't discount how much the simultaneous action forms the core of the game.

To address your two specific questions:

1. I personally wouldn't score the game as highly if it used cardboard counters instead of models, but then these days I wouldn't have picked up ANY WW2 game that used cardboard counters so I'm not sure how to weigh this. I really like the order-planning and simultaneous execution parts of the game system, so I would still score the game well... but the models are a direct part of the appeal to me as a miniatures gamer, and their quality pushes it higher for me. I think Zvezda knows that visual appeal is part of what they're selling, so they probably wouldn't disagree that you'll enjoy their games best if you like the plastic models too.

Would people play Flames of War if it was a cardboard game? Or 40K as you mention? I guess it's the same question.

2. I actually don't find the price at all unexpected for what you get; I think the $80 price tag for this box stuffed full of boards, cards, and plastic units is just about right. (If the units were cardboard counters, then yeah it would be significantly off.)

I do think that a bigger diversity of units, and especially units that employed a fuller range of the available rules, would have made a better starter set. That's the single biggest reason I gave it a B+ in my review rather than an A. But that said... I think Zvezda is already addressing this with the release of supplemental units, and at $5 per infantry squad it doesn't cost very much at all to expand from the base game. It costs a bit more when you start adding future vehicles, which will presumably remain in the $12 range, but I'm well familiar with this approach from my Warhammer days. Remember, to me the models themselves are cool and fun to paint, as well as being game pieces.

So, provided this kind of game appeals to one's particular wargaming interests, I think Battle for Oil provides good value as the foundation of a system -- even though it has some plainly unrealized potential that's awaiting new units. The starter set gives you all of the infrastructure you need to make expansion easy once the new stuff arrives.

If I can make a comparison with another company: I just bought the Forsaken Lore expansion for FFG's Eldritch Horror game, and that's kind of the same principle. Some folks were upset that the expansion just filled in the card mix they felt should have come with the game in the first place. But I don't think this was gouging on FFG's part; instead I accept that the manufacturer could probably only invest so much in the initial product, and sometimes the business model is best served by a staged release.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lance McMillan
United States
Lakebay
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Victory Point Games fanMicrobadge: Napoleonic 20 fan - FrenchMicrobadge: Star Borders: Humanity fanMicrobadge: Frank Chadwick fanMicrobadge: US Naval officer
Really appreciate your well crafted and very thorough response, Jon. It addresses all my questions/concerns and clarifies that, as I suspected, this probably isn't a game I'd enjoy.

JDarlington wrote:
Would people play Flames of War if it was a cardboard game? Or 40K as you mention? I guess it's the same question.
I think this, Ars Victor, might at least partially answer that question.

Thanks again.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Great! I completely understand, and I'm just as happy if I've saved someone from mis-investing their gaming funds, as I am to highlight something a gamer might like but could otherwise have missed.

Ars Victor, huh? Thanks -- I'm going to check that out. (My tastes are broad so you never know.)

Incidentally, speaking of cardboard counters, I have virtually the entire ASL suite languishing in my basement... sigh. Those were fun days.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Lance McMillan
United States
Lakebay
Washington
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
Microbadge: Victory Point Games fanMicrobadge: Napoleonic 20 fan - FrenchMicrobadge: Star Borders: Humanity fanMicrobadge: Frank Chadwick fanMicrobadge: US Naval officer
JDarlington wrote:
I have virtually the entire ASL suite languishing in my basement...
Speak not of that vile cult. Burn the heretics and relegate their detritus to eBay!

(Managed to sell off my ASL at a convention auction last year, after trying and failing to grok the mechanic several times over multiple years -- for a tactical game system I far prefer LnL's "World at War/Nations at War" series: simple, totally intuitive, and fast playing.)
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Excellent review, beautiful painted figs!

Quote:
I’ve already picked up a Machine Gun squad for both the Americans and Soviets, plus two Anti-Aircraft missile squads for each side and an Anti-Tank missiles squad for the Americans
I have a question: where did you find these figs?

Thanks,

MB
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Hey Michel:

Thanks! I ordered them through my local hobby store; they had JUST arrived a few weeks ago.

If you're in Ottawa, you can get them from the Hobby Centre near the Merivale Costco -- the store's address is 6-33 Roydon Place. They may not have them in stock, but if you contact them they can place an order and things usually arrive in the store within a week.

If you're not in Ottawa, your local hobby store should be able to do the same.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thanks, Jon!

(I see they have some at Udisco here in Montreal. thumbsup)

MB
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Barry Kendall
United States
Lebanon
Pennsylvania
flag msg tools
designer
Microbadge: Golden MeepleMicrobadge: Geek RegularMicrobadge: Herculean Board Game CollectorMicrobadge: Level 13 BGG posterMicrobadge: 5 Year Geek Veteran
First a minor gripe or two, then to a question or two . . .

I really wish Zvezda had chosen to use figures in the same scale as the vehicles--15mm--OR, if discrepant scales were chosen, that they would have gone with 1/144 vehicles and 15mm figs.

The vehicles look enormous on the hexes, and with ranges counted in single digits, the whole thing just seems "off" for a tactical game.

Plus, the multi-part infantry really slows down preparation time. The FoW folks came out with nice 15mm figs for their Arnhem game/FoW tie-in (though the sprues are horrifyingly heavy, and removing the figs was quite a task). These would have worked fine for HW.

That's the first gripe.

The second is that I like the fact that Zvezda provided individual bases for the infantry (except for the prone guy--??). But I wish they had chosen to provide "unit bases" in the style of their Samurai game, which provides for individual bases and permits those bases to fit onto "unit stands." The reason for this was obviously so the game could be played with either of the two provided systems (Art of Tactic, or Richard Borg's C&C Samurai rules). But I wish the same approach had been taken with HW.

So much for the second gripe.

First question: Given that the "recon" troops are described in your look-ahead as infantry, do you have a guess as to whether light vehicles such as Humvees will follow? Given the time period (1990) I wouldn't expect Strykers to appear at all, but HMMVWs were in wide use at that time.

Second question: Would the AoT system support the inclusion of regional/unconventional forces to allow scenarios reflective of either the Soviet Afghan War or US actions vs local paramilitary or factional forces? If so, faction units' values could probably be extrapolated and existing figures for such (shown on the "Plastic Soldier Review" site) would allow for interesting expansions to the standard game.

Third question: Given the attack helo rules, do you anticipate that airmobile infantry units and their lift assets will be represented at some point?

Thanks for an excellent review.

As to questions . . .
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Hey Barry:

I have never really minded that the infantry and vehicles use different scales; I'm more interested in them looking like good game pieces with enough detail to reward painting. That said though, I agree that the Hot War vehicles are large for the hexes on the board. Here Zvezda is being consistent with its scale from the WW2 series, but I think 1/144 might have worked well; but then the infantry would have looked bizarrely out of scale even to me.

On the other hand I'm glad the infantry aren't smaller than they are. At 15mm I find infantry models are too small for much detail and end up very roughly shaped (to me the FoW infantry really oddly proportioned -- sort of like War Goblins). So I think I understand the compromise Zvezda was going for here.

Re. the first question, I'm afraid I have no special knowledge of the future models planned for the series other than the things I mentioned, which were in the 2014 catalog. Certainly Humvees sound like a good idea, as infantry would become much more mobile and capable of seizing objectives without tying up armoured vehicles as transport. Anything that would help infantry play a more significant role is a plus in my view.

Re. the second question, there's nothing at all to prevent using the system to represent unconventional, paramilitary forces. The WW2 system has just introduced Soviet Militia as weak, armed civilians and something similar could apply here. Local "desert partisans" or simply local non-American/Soviet units could absolutely play a role here.

(How about civilian jeeps with mounted HMGs and some local ragged troops vs. an all-infantry defending force?). Find the models, throw together some rules, and you're all set. Again I'm all about the low-level conflicts that highlight infantry, rather than contests of sheer firepower.)

Sort of like: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Caesar-Miniatures-1-72-Modern-Mili...

Re. the third question: The Soviet helicopter can already load, carry, and drop off troops, though the American one can't. I don't know if American air transport is planned down the road.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Customer Service
msg tools
publisher
Microbadge: Zvezda Models fan
Hello!

Thank you for the feedback! I'll pass it along to our design team. It's always very helpful to hear what people think about our games.

As for your questions:

We are currently working out our plans for new releases for the next year, and final decisions haven't been made yet. We do plan to continue supporting Hot War fully. As soon as I have a better idea of what's coming up, I'll make an announcement.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls