Eight War Games from UK Games Expo 2018

By Ben Moores 11 Jun 2018 0

The UK Games Expo isn’t exactly Salute, so it’s not a place that screams ‘wargames’, but for those who are willing, do a little digging and you’d be surprised what you may find. This is a round-up of eight interesting new & upcoming wargames from the recent show in the NEC Birmingham, UK.

The cooperative U-Boot boardgame (PHALANX) was perhaps the most beautiful thing at the expo, even sparkler than their Kickstarter campaign. The huge, sleek, model submarine is so good that I made a mental note to install cardboard hatches down my corridor and change all the light bulbs to red so that I can re-enact Das Boot.

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U-Boot - They won't catch us this time! Not this time!

However, whilst I am prepared to rebuild my family home around this marvel I am concerned that the game has far too many optional plastic extras and not enough gameplay. I watched two play tests and I just couldn’t see what decisions the crew were making and I was concerned about the level of downtime. Either way, I’m on board and at worst the neighbours will have something real to complain about as we all charge to the starboard end of my flat to dive that little bit quicker.

I also had a look at Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare (PSC) the very latest Command and Colours spin-off but this time in spaaaccce. PSC ought to be a safe pair of hands for this tried and true system, as they did an excellent job with the WW1 Great War series based on the mechanics. The number of spin-offs that are being made for Command & Colours (we must be on eight by now), I reckon we will be playing Command and Colours Cities within the decade.

I love how this system creates command inefficiencies using a card hand to limit your operational choices. However, I do wonder whether by the 24th century super AI’s cores with high capacity datalinks will really struggle with the same communication issues as Alexander did in 320 BC. The demo game was huge at UKGE yet apparently this is the size that the production version of the game is. So, if you want Red Alert then you might want to go to ‘bigger table’ action stations immediately, and then head on over to the Kickstarter page.

Also at the PSC booth was a demo copy of Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC), which should be going to Kickstarter in July. It is the latest instalment of a series I’ve been a big fan of as it allows me, and non- wargamers, to play through an entire conflict in a single evening. The latest offering looks at the Cold War period and has three teams, the Non-Aligned Powers (the UN), the Soviet/Warsaw PACT and the US/NATO. A first for the series, this game actually requires a minimum of three people to play, with additional players (up to six) teaming up (although there is still only one deck per faction, unlike past games).

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Some lovely tank and aircraft components for Quartermaster General: Cold War

The game assumes that the Cold War is going to get fairly hot at times so takes a few liberties, incorporating nuclear weapons that you can prepare and use but for a cost in cards relative to how much you escalate by. Air Force pieces allow you project power over distance without involving ground force pieces.

I’m not entirely sold on the concept of the Cold War interspersed with direct confrontations as it feels unrealistic. I do like the idea of nuclear escalation and the tension associated with it but the idea of nuclear weapons being routinely or flippantly used seems wrong. Nuclear codes should be in a brown envelope that sits in the bottom of the box to be only used in a time of great emergency rather than thrown around with gay abandon, however I know that liberal distribution of thermonuclear weapons will appeal to many.

I also had an opportunity to have a look at This War without an Enemy (Nuts! Publishing), a strategic level English Civil War game based around cards and block mechanics. Right now, the only table-top game on this theme is Unhappy King Charles (GMT Games) which is really worth playing but its long and the cards feel a bit theme dry.

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Draft map for War without an Enemy.

This War without an Enemy promises to be a shorter game that is designed by an expert on the period who has added a nice layer of chrome on the cards without going full Homer Car. Furthermore, the game has blocks so it addresses the fog of war issue that was lacking in Unhappy King Charles. I am not always convinced that war games undergo the best play-testing because of their complexity but knowing some of the very experienced play test team I have great vibes about this game.

FITNA - Modern war in the Middle East is a 2-6 player game on modern wars in the Middle East, also from Nuts! Publishing. FITNA contains approximately 10 scenarios relating to recent events in Syria and Iraq. It’s a quick play system based on a similar card activation system first seen in the Iran-Iraq war game Bloody Dawns, which is also designed by Pierre Razoux.

The problem with current games is that they quickly date and lose some of their appeal but FITNA has been designed to allow players to create their own scenarios to explore any new conflictual situation in the Middle East. This really appeals to me and it looks like the cards are flexible enough to allow the game to be adapted.

The classic War of the Roses game Kingmaker is coming back into print courtesy of Gibson Games. Kingmaker has had numerous editions over the years but still suffered from a number of crucial gameplay flaws. I am sceptical as some recent reprints of old classics have been disappointing as there wasn’t an associated mechanic update. However, Gibson Games tell me that they are not just updating the components but the design too which will address previous issues.

Death Rails

There is death on these here rails.

There still isn’t a great meaty War of the Roses game so I am excited about the prospects of once again dragging my opponent’s heir down off his horse for summary execution whilst mixing up muddled quotes from Shakespeare and Game of Thrones.

I’ve been reading and playing a fair bit on the Russian Civil War recently, so I was quite excited to come across a tactical wargame on the Estonian Civil War called 1918: Death on the Rails. This blends fog of war blocks with a Conflict of Heroes type mechanic and a pretty innovative initiative system that allows only your opponent to see how many moves you have left. This system really changes the way that you approach the game and how lucky you feel when you go to move just a little bit further.

The game also comes with a 3D model of a train that can come on and provide mech-warrior like firepower on rails. The only thing is that this topic is really very niche, you would have thought it better to start with the main Russian Civil War forces. However, as there is no Russian Civil War tactical level board game available then this might scratch that, till now, impossible to reach itch.

Last but not least, there was a tactical skirmish game called Farsight. Set in a grim future of declining resources and PMCs wielding awesome mechs, this is a game largely about positioning and information gathering. Players deploy units to the filed face-down, which are only revealed when they are spied upon buy agents, or they enter into combat. There are other agent types that get deployed on a separate ‘Shadow Map’, where you not only have to mark down your own agent’s deployments, but also try and figure out where the enemy agents are as well (so you can kill them).

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The board state at the start of the demo.

The game revolves around the capture and control of various control points, with the player holding the most being declared the victor. Combat can either be dice-based or number crunching, which gives this game a rather sour aftertaste – during the playtest, bad dice rolling meant we lost all but one engagement, and that single victory was one we would have lost had we been using the number-crunching rules. For a game that has some quite clever mechanics in the pre-battle stages, it’s a shame its combat system is rather basic.

Farsight has already gone through ha successful Kickstarter campaign, and Braincrack were largely there to try and shift the last remaining copies they had of the core-set plus the miniatures pack. They’re thinking of doing an expansion, as well as perhaps a second run of the core set, but probably not this year.

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