Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Tampa
Florida
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A skeleton set up on the way to Stalingrad - and how prophetic no less for the Wehrmacht's Sixth Army and its Allies...



In seemingly a previous lifetime, I noted that tactical games and tactical games that concentrate on “grunts” generally left me with an emotion akin to visiting the physical therapist – or in much earlier days the Army audiologist. In 1984 I gave away Squad Leader before marching off to Officer Candidate School. Yet I did like some of those early SPI Prestag games. Perhaps one of the first things that forced me to reevaluate that was preparing for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I immersed myself in the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses to get refresh my combat skills as I thought this might be a more tactical war than was assumed. Let's just say that we were glad to have done so but in doing so, I discovered now a new intellectual curiosity on that type of combat. As an Armor Officer, that was always a sideshow to me - now, after seeing it first hand, it became relevant.

Breakout - August 1941 with mixed-Soviet elements trying to escape encirclement.
So we had soon taken in part of the Lock and Load games, GMT's various Combat Commanders, Academy's Conflict of Heroes, Gary Graber's newer system and some Panzer Grendier. Although I liked all, I found them a bit more than I wanted MOST of the time. Not fiddly but not the sort I generally felt comfortable just pulling off the shelf and playing. So when I saw Assault Red Horizon '41, I said, ok let's try it.
DISCLAIMER: I am being paid in huge amounts of crypto currency to give them a flattering review, ah no. But what I do need to state is I am reviewing an iteration of the game system as it reaches maturity. However we are playing with the most current rules.


Brewing up Soviet Armor - this would stop once the KV and T34 series appeared.



COMPONENTS

Upon opening my review kit, I was surprised at how much these guys had included in the game! I'm still smarting over a review copy of a football game where we got only 2 teams to try and make sense out of their game system with....We had five large geomorphic map sections with large hexes nicely rendered considering it's a test kit. The production version pictures I have seen are very nice. There were 5 scenario cards on a good heavy card stock, easy to read and in clear English. There is a turn record chart, also on heavy cardstock. In addition there were two colorful and eye-catching Player Aid Cards with one side being terrain and how it modifies movement and combat and the other side on the various battle charts and results. After several play throughs you are no longer puzzling the charts out but reading results or modifiers as needed. There are also cards for each player that may give you a free action or simply cancel the card played by your foe.


Lot of stuff in this box!




Game set-up - elements of the formations are above broken out. Below are the actual formations. The little red markers are command points per formation.


But the large counters are what makes the game so far to me. Again - eye catching and generally sharp considering it's a play-test review kit. It's easy to tell a units status by the color of its side - either green or red dependent upon its current damage level. In addition each unit has a nice colored arrow to indicate the units current facing. For the Soviet Player you have T-60's, BT-7's, T-34's, KV-1, KV-2, Maxin MG units, snipers, trucks, 76 mmZiS3, 45mm AT guns, 76mm Infantry gun, 82 mm Mortar sections and infantry: Rifle, Grenadiers and AT Rifle. The German Player also has at his disposal the full kit bag of the 1941 Wehrmacht such as Sdkfz 222 armored car, StuG III E, PZ II F, SdKfz 251/1 armored personnel carrier, Pz IV F2 and the Czech Skoda Pz 38 t. On the infantry side of the world the Germans have an Opel Truck, Rifles 41 and Grenadiers 41, 81mm mortar section, 37 and 50 mm AT guns, 88mm AA gun, the 75 mm 1aiG18 howitzer, along with their version of an anti-tank rifle and the workhorse SMG 34 machine gun. All of these are on nicely rendered cards detailing its defensive factors, movement rate and which dice are rolled at what range target dependent. I was perfectly fine with the exclusion of say the BT-5 and Pk I as I didn't see how it would have mattered that much in terms of overall affect that the designers were trying to achieve (but would have wished for the T-26).

Of course, these guys supplied baggie upon baggie of things to keep all of my cats busy for days! First, 24 colored solid colored dice - green, red, yellow and blue that are used for your combat tolls. You also have markers galore, which at first turned me off instinctively as I thought oh lord, it's one of those bookkeeping games. Instead, the various markers added to play, from having a minus-1 attack die that turn to various status markers such as entrenching or how its rate of movement. By the second game I was playing with some of the markers and by the third had incorporated all of them, with not much game play impact. We also have the ubiquitous red and White Command markers, the game's money system. Most game actions invariably cost something and how you spend these will dictate the flow of the term but you won't have enough to activate all your units.



Die you KV-1 - ain't gonna recover from that roll...



RULES

The rules at this point are a work in progress. They aren't incomplete but simply need some more proofing and overall cross-indexing and making certain things are easily accessible in terms of searching. However, they are off to a good initial effort on this, so my gut feeling is this will be fully done before publication. It took me only two reading to be able to set up and play the game though, and barely did much wrong. What is funny is the rules were not so heavy that even while doing something wrong, my mind would click over to the rules recalling "something" on what I was perhaps doing wrong. Additionally the rules are lavishly illustrated to help out in seemingly most situations that will arise. To me, all of this was simply a sign of a complete enough rule set that I could recall so much while playing a new game.


But they did, minus being stunned...Defensive rolls can cancel out hits - it's simple and easy.



GAME PLAY

Upon opening some games I get that queasy feeling that whatever new system is going to be a lot of work. Worse are the companies who seem to have the minimum forty-page rulebook and then the forty-page Playbook. meaning I'm already penciled in for at least two hours of reading "prose" before ever pushing anything on the map. I thought that here because the rules were long and the FLOOD of components gave me a false impression of an impending slog. The rules weren't that long due to spacing due to these being draft beta rules of a sorts with all that entails.


Your Combat Players Aid Card




Terrain Effect Chart with Die Modifier


The scenarios all to date are truly smaller actions, with a manageable number of units on the board. You might be at most fighting a reinforced company or battalion level action, allowing you to focus on the game play than dealing with too many units. At first I wasn't keen on the low density of units but after playing this repeatedly, the designer was right that smaller numbers for ARG '41 allows you to focus on playing the game in all its richness than getting your turn over with it or worse, dragging a turn out because there is too much to do. Set up is easy with my final action drawing a number of cards per hand equal to the number of formations per the scenario card.



Miss Frankie wondering if Dad will note I changed the die roll....



GAME PL
So how does the game play right? One determines initiative, move stuff around, conduct combat, place markers and go onto to the next turn. Well it's more than that but it's a nice summation because game flow is that simple and becomes second nature rapidly, or at least for me it did. Unlike some games, your card play doesn't become a center of gravity - it's just another part of the game but generally minus game changing consequences.

The game system is one I didn't used to like but now accept, which I call the enemy gets a vote, or an alternating turn system. Nothing unique here in the overall concept they stick to a format most of us understand. If there are three passes in a row the turn ends, and recall earlier my comments about your choices on how to spend your command chits? This deciding to activate or pass gives the defensive player the opportunity to better shape the battlefield. Do you choose to activate your units early or wait until the other player begins to pass? You can also play a card from your hand to enhance your turn or disrupt the flow of the other player's turn. I found card play to be meaningful here as there are few that get played, since some games feel like UNO with counter to counter on card play. Card play to me here reflects you trying to get inside the other guys OODA or C2 loop at a simple level and if it works great. But if they counter your play and you are one with a much smaller formation footprint, it can be potentially huge in terms of impact. It took me a while to realize that aspect - did the designer really realize that implication? If they did only on the subconscious level, it's a huge bonus for us.

Now there's no artillery or even off-board artillery in the game system as currently developed. I'm perfectly ok with that and pray should they add it, it's but an optional rule. Layer stuff on if you will but keep the gears of this game grit fear. Please, no FOD! The designers emailed me and told me that for future expansions they will add more such as Fortresses, air, off-board artillery and other aspects to add greater flavor to the system. For now there is no tactical air. Again, I'm fine with that, as sometimes the rush to be all inclusive produces a bloated whale. What I liked about the combat system was you aren't just a passive victim. Terrain and unit dependent, one gets to roll dice in turn to mitigate any adverse rolls received by your nefarious opponent. This system added much more tension to the game and kept you involved.


I found the game to have only a small amount of a luck factor or Deus ex machina built into it simply by virtue of the die roll results. Having missed an IED ambush in Iraq in 2003 because we were running late due to the escort not being timely was a personal reminder of the factor of luck at the micro level. The overall feeling of HRA '41 is this system is designed by a gamer who wanted someone to play and enjoy their product, while trying to create their vision of the world of small unit combat.



CONCLUSIONS

Assault Red Horizon '41 is more than a niche game. To me it set out to establish itself in a market, seemingly dominated by several larger gaming systems by appealing to those who wanted more in terms of ease of play while retaining fidelity to the feel of tactical combat. I believe that ARH 41 certainly achieved that lofty goal for let's face it - there are many good tactical game systems out there, but it depends upon how much Hemlock you wish to take. ARH is a Hemlock free game in terms of investment of time to crack the system. There may be games that get into more detail and offer more component wise (personally I'm not certain how), but ARH '41 feels right and plays easily enough after playing the game several times. This is an auspicious debut that we eagerly await for its final publication and future expansions.



Overall I like their marker system - I didn't use it the first two turns to get use to the flow but once I layered its use on it made the game much better. You can glance at the board and have an idea of what is going on - no off board charts to consult - you can just see and in a sense feel the current game flow.


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Terry Lewis
United States
Oregon
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"But first, the children ought to be fed." -- Virginia Held (1980) from "Property, Profits, and Economic Justice"
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Another good review, Smitty!

Two quick observations: (1) I have no combat experience; (2) I have almost no gaming experience at the tactical level in ages, especially WWII.

My only points of reference and comparison are PanzerBlitz [1970; AH; Jim Dunnigan; R. A. Simonsen], Panzer Battles: Tactical Armored Warfare in WWII [(1942, 1944, 1945); 1979; SPI (S&T # 73); Tom Walczyx; R. A. Simonsen], and Tank: Armored Combat in the Twentieth Century (1937- 1970s) [1974; SPI; Jim Dunnigan; R. A. Simonsen].

I remember in the early 1970s purchasing multiple countersheets for PanzerBlitz and building a 36" x 36" three dimensional game board so that the PB counters actually functioned like miniatures. But, that game board was given away more than 35 years ago, and the boxes of counters have languished since.

From your review, this simulation sounds playable, without investing huge amounts of time mastering a complex and detailed system. But, I don't know if the tactical feel exerts enough of a gravitational pull on my gaming life, which is mostly operational and grandtactical these days. Maybe if "Miss Frankie" would help with the die rolls . . .
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Tampa
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Terry:

I believe the team is kicking around the idea as an expansion pack(?) of sorts 3D vehicles. With that you have an elevated base that fits on the hex allowing you to see the terrain beneath.

Didn't we all kick our teeth on Panzerblitz? Maybe the 2nd game my recently passed Mom got for me - I think it was that and France 1940 at the same time.

Boxes of counters - you didn't see that dro0l right?

Smitty
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Terry Lewis
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"But first, the children ought to be fed." -- Virginia Held (1980) from "Property, Profits, and Economic Justice"
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I will ignore the drooooling . . . .

Yes, I purchased a large number of PB counter sheets so that I could field at least the equivalent of a German division (armor and infantry) and a Russian division, infantry and armor. I imagine that some counter sheets are still un-punched!!
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W. K.
Germany
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Thanks for the detailed review of our project.

Nice to have this review by an experience Wargamer.

Meanwhile, a little more has been done in the design. We are already in production planning and want to start a crowdfunding campaign at the end of this year. This might be delayed a bit because we are still exploring alternatives to showing the units in the game.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
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OMG - did that purchase require it's own closet?!?

Smitty
 
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