I have a fondness for WWII tactical wargames. While I tend to post a lot about miniature gaming I also have a large(ish) library of wargames that I don’t get to play as often as I like. There are games from the Panzer Grenadier series, the Nations at War Series and as much of the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kit series as I could grab. I also happen to own a copy of Tiger Leader and Sherman Leader from Dan Verssen Games. These are solitaire titles that allow you to take command of a battalion of troops during WWII and run them through multiple missions and track losses, experience and create a story about the unit you have built. I like the two tank Leader games but they seem to require a bit more focus and time than I can give to them at the moment and so while they are fun titles I haven’t played them recently.
For reasons that are not important, I have been looking to pick up one or two new wargame titles recently and so I have been checking out reviews, videos and Facebook (ugh) groups for information about the various titles that are available. The internet is really quite odd when it comes to wargame suggestions as people will routinely mention titles to you that have been out of print for 20 years and the industry itself is rather small so companies quite frequently have games, even popular ones, go out of print for a time. I was looking for something that could be played solitaire while not necessarily being made for solitaire play. If I have time to go out and game I am usually playing a miniature game.
One title that caught my attention was the WWII version of DVG’s Warighter series of games. I watched a few videos and playthroughs and was quite interested by the game. DVG is currently promoting the modern ‘spec-ops’ version of the game but that doesn’t really have any appeal to me. The premise of the game is the same as Sherman Leader. You build a team of soldiers to take on a mission. Where Sherman Leader specifically deals with a longer campaign, Warfighter is focused on a single mission. You can play a campaign with your troops if you want but the campaign game is an add-on to a single mission design.
Now I can’t really put my finger on what made me decide to give Warfighter WWII a try but it was in stock at my FLGS and so I grabbed a copy. I can’t overstate how glad I am to have done so. DVG specialize in creating solitaire titles and have been evolving their game mechanics as they release new games and new titles in some of their established series. You can see this when you compare Tiger Leader with the more recently released Sherman Leader. Warfighter is one of their most recent game developments and it shows a lot of solitaire experience in the mechanics and rules. There is an immediate logic to how the game runs and what you do. It is simple without being simplistic and the game engine appears to be able to really through some spanners in your plans.
I broke the game out today and ran through one of the missions. I had so much fun that I wanted to play another game immediately. If I hadn’t taken over the dining room table I probably would have. The first few turns were a bit slow as I was working through how to apply what I had read in the rules and watched online. After that I was able to just focus on playing the game. The few rules questions I did have were either answered from the Keyword sheet that comes in the game or were fairly logical.
At its heart, Warfighter is a resource management game. You select a Mission which defines the number of turns available to you, the number of points to build a force as well as modifiers for the load your troops can carry. Some missions also have special rules attached to them to modify things such as how the Turn Counter is modified. You also pick an Objective which is places a number of spaces away from the Mission card on your game area. This determines the number of Locations that you will have to move through to get to the Objective, activate it and then try to complete the conditions of the Objective.
In order to perform this task you build a team from the points defined in the Mission. There are three types of troops available from which to build your force. The first, called Player Soldiers, are the gamer’s avatar, of sorts, and have more health, a higher potential load to carry weapons and the ability to have a custom loadout that you can tailor to the Objective. The second, Non-player Soldiers, have a pre-defined loadout and can’t get cards. Finally the Squad Soldier have no specific weapons and just a generic attack value.
Soldiers also get Action Cards which are one of the first resources in the game. These cards have actions on them that you can use during your turn to move troops, avoid enemy fire etc. You can spend these cards to help your troops move (Locations have a movement cost that many times is higher than what your troops can move) for instance.
Action Cards also have the ability to be ‘up-gunned’ to either increase their effect or to allow them to be used on other troops. You do this by spending XP (Experience Points) which your troops can start the game with but which you usually gain for eliminating enemy troops. XP can also be spent to avoid the effects of Event Cards or the abilities on some enemy troops. The German Ambusher unit moves into where your troops are and then you need to expend XP to stop it from suppressing all your troops in the Location.
Each soldier also has a limited number of actions they can use each turn. There are a large number of things to spend them on including reloading, removing suppression, tending to wounds, firing and even discarding your cards to draw more. Non-player Soldiers and Squad Soldiers will also lose actions as they take damage. You also have a limited store of ammo, grenades, bandages and most material that you will expend in the course of battles.
So your force needs at least one Player Soldier not only for their ability to customize their weapons but also to draw and play Action Cards. These cards have their own abilities but also help you move and also can pay for the ability to do melee attacks. To make the most of these cards you need XP which you can start with but you will mostly gain in combat. Action Cards can also require the spending of XP or other cards to order to function.
Each Location that you need to move through then becomes a puzzle which you need to solve by using your soldier actions, Action Cards and XP. You need to manage your resources through each of these puzzles to ensure that you can make it through the entire Mission but also do so quickly since you are on a clock with a limited number of turns to complete the Objective.
I think this is where the genius of the game resides. Each Location has its own distinct character. It has a movement cost, a number of enemy troops it generates, additional keywords and specific types of troops that will reinforce it. Each is a specific nut to crack and while you can try to plan for what the game will through at you, there are enough random elements in the game that you can’t be sure what you will actually encounter. There are a large number of random factors in the game and where DVG’s experience in this field really shows is that they are all easy to use, easily referenced on the cards and simple to remember.
You choose your Mission and Objective but you have very little control over the Locations that come out. You might be lucky and draw more than you need from the Action Deck but mostly you will be stuck with what you find and try to ration your Action Cards to make the best of these Locations. You have no control over what types of troops are going to attack you or their number. You start the game with picking either Frontline or Elite troops to draw from but after that you are at the mercy of the card draw. Troops also get generated by a Location but they don’t necessarily stay there. They can move when they deploy. There is then this tension in the game between your expectations and plans and then the reality of what the game hands you.
You may get bogged down with a Location that has an MG nest lead by an Officer and then clear it out only to stumble on a roadway that has troops swarming in it. You move forward to a new Location only to have it generate troops that pop up behind you. There is a sense of chaos in the game and so when you finally do clear a Location or move your own MG forward, or avoid a potential nest of enemy ambushers by the clever use of an Action Card there is a tangible sense of accomplishment. This builds as you move through the Locations to the final Objective and makes the game feel like an accomplishment.
I am not sure what sort of game experience I was expecting when I set Warfighter WWII up but I am simply blown away by just how good a game this is. I have already cleared off space on a desk downstairs and it will be getting a more permanent place for me to set up and play games. The base game comes with American Soldiers, a European set of Locations and German opponents. DVG also sell a set of expansion decks for the game to add Russians (and a cold weather Russian set of Locations), British, German player Soldiers, and Poles. Each of these expansions also come with more events, Missions, Objectives, Locations, skills, enemy Frontline and Elite cards and weapons. Including the base set you can expand the game to Gloomhaven heights with up to 1000 cards. And there was a second Kickstarter for the game, which I am sad to have missed, which adds US Marines, Japanese, Chinese, North Korean and South Korean, multiple airborne forces and even the French. There is a lot of game to be played and it seems as if it can provide you with years of fun.