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| Art of Tactic (WWII: Barbarossa, 1941), by Zvezda - LONG|
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|Saturday, Bill and I gave the new Art of Tactic a play at Great Hall Games in Austin, Texas. I tried to get the rules down for the week I've owned the game, but I had a busy week and my grasp could only encompass the barest fundamentals. As a result, it was very much a learn-as-you-go game. |
What it is:
Art of Tactic is a new WWII tactical combat game by the Russian hobby/model manufacturer Zvezda. The scale is roughly company-level with each turn representing maybe 15-minutes of time and each hex roughly 250m. (That's a guess). Each model represents a platoon of soldiers, a group of 3 tanks or guns, and individual aircraft. Scenarios represent a small operation using fixed assets along with a number of points which can be used to "purchase" supporting units in your collection.
What We Did and How We Did It:
We decided to try Scenario #5 (Strong Point) as our intro to the system since it gave us enough fixed assets and points to compose an attacking and defending force of roughly 10 units apiece. The scenario depicts an attacking German force trying to capture a town atop a low hill.
Since I had to borrow some metal miniatures from a friend to play the game (the models in the game are unassembled and I simply hadn't started on them), we gimped our pool of units to draw from a bit. The Russians created a force of 1 Company Headquarters, 3 infantry platoons, 1 Machine Gun section, 1 82mm Mortar section, a truck, and a T-34 troop. The Germans had 1 Company Headquarters, 3 Infantry platoons, 1 Pioneer platoon, 1 Machine Gun Section, a truck, a Pz II light tank troop and a Pz III medium tank troop.
The Germans began the game at the western edge of the board. The Russians set their machine guns, the headquarters, and one infantry platoon in and around the town on the hill. The rest of the force appeared on the eastern edge of the map. Our game was set to go for 30 turns.
The Turn Structure:
Each turn is composed of two parts and both players share in them equally. The first part is Planning, when each player marks their laminated cards (one for each units) with the activities their troops will perform during the turn. Chiefly, there are several flavors of shooting, moving, and Special Actions (such as deploying/withdrawing crew-served weapons; digging in or building something; or loading/unloading trucks/vehicles.)
The second half of each turn is Execution. Players reveal the orders for their units and resolve them following a prescribed sequence but othrwise simultaneously. Most shooting is done early in the turn followed by assaults; special actions; and remaining movement. This is usually very entertaining as units are sometimes caught flat-footed by an opponent's timely order.
Make or Break: Fortitude Tests
Several times during the turn, as the result of enemy fire, units will have to take Fortitude Tests. These are essentially morale tests. Failure means a unit loses some defensive advantages as well as any order not yet executed. If they pass, they continue with their current activites with whatever defensive advantages (chiefly terrain) are still available.
In our game, Bill advanced in a line towards the town with the tanks covering his flanks and the truck (with resupplies of ammunition) bringing up the rear. The Russians waited on the hill and brought up their reaming infantry, the truck went behind the town to have its supply of ammo resupplies handy. The T-34 went on a sweep against the German right flank.
The following turn saw Bill's tanks attack the Russian machine gun section over-watching the frontal approaches to the town. Though the German infantry had entered the MG's "kill zone" (a cone of hexes in front of crew served weapons), the German tanks were advancing with Fire and Movement and so were able to engage the Russians first. The Pz II, with its speed and machine guns, is a very effective anti-infantry vehicle and eliminated the Russian section. This was accomplished by rolling a number of determined by and the PzII's current vehicle strength against the range to and type of target.
Tank on Tank Action...
The following turn saw a convergence of the German infantry on the hill. Meanwhile, the T-34 had arrived on the scene and engaged with the PzII and the PzIII (both in the same hex) in a gunnery duel. The Russian tank attacked with Suppression fire and the Germans were ordered to respond in kind. As effective as the PzII is against infantry, it's not so good with tanks. The PzII fire was ineffectual and the PzIII did not fare better, though it ranged and tagged the T-34. The T-34 was able to destroy the PzII and, thanks to its proximity in the hex, put some fire on the PzIII, but also to know effect.
Suppression Fire: It'll Test Your Fortitude!
I should note that Suppression fire is very intensive form of firing. It happens early in the turn and burns up a lot of ammunition (which something you CAN run out of in this game!) but offers the greatest chances of hitting a target. Units that are the target of Suppression fire always take fortitude tests whether they took actual damage/casualties or not. In the tank duel, the T-34 and the PzII both took (and passed) Fortitude tests even though they suffered no casualties—the exchange of fire was still quite intense! The PzII was eliminated and so the test was moot.
Tank on Infantry Action...
The following turn saw the T-24 do a Move and Fire against the PzIII. The PzIII delivered another round of Suppression fired. Out of 9 dice rolled needing 2's to-hit, the PzIII put three rounds on the T-34. This matched the T-34's defense value so no hits carried over: whiff. On its bound, the T-34 advanced to within one hex of the PzIII and rolled 8 dice needing 2's to hit. They were extremely lucky and put down 5 hits. This over-reached the PzIIIs defense value of 2 by three. Three hits on the tank: destroyed.
Things were looking good for the Russians with no tank opposition and they got better as the T-23 drove into the German HQ platoon in an assault on the following turn. The Germans retreated and the T-34's luck chilled: only one hit on the Germans. (As I understand the Close Combat rules, a unit may voluntarily give up its current order to retreat 1 hex, though it means the enemy gets a free attack on the retreating unit.)
No Ammo?!? SAVE SOME AMMO!!!
But then the inevitable happened: the T-34 ran out of ammo! Time to turn around and go back to the truck for resupply. Meanwhile, the Germans continued their inexorable advance on the town with the remaining infantry. This when tide shifted from the Russians to the Germans...
Infantry on Infantry Action...
Ultimately, the Germans reached the town with their Infantry platoons and their Pioneers. The Russians made a desperate attempt to hang on and put withering Suppression fire on the Germans. However, they passed their tests by the time the Recovery phased was reached and on they went. Eventually, the Germans were able to toss the Russians out of the village. But it was a bloody fight. The Germans had three platoons mauled and the Russians were eliminated principally because they failed a Supression Test and blew an end-of-turn Recovery roll.
I didn't immediately note a limit on stacking. In our game, we stacked up to three units in a hex. When the stack was fired upon, a group or model in the hex was picked as a target. (Usually, you already have a target in mind.) You do perform your Fire Test (determine the number of d6's and the roll needed to hit you target) and roll to hit. Apply the hits and set aside the misses. Take away half the misses and roll those dice against another target in the hex. Do the same if there are any other enemy units in the hex.
So stacking in a hex makes the units susceptible to collateral damage. This happened in the German's assault on the town. If possible, I would suggest having different attackers fire against different defenders stacked together in a hex. Preferably, each unit would target the defender in the hex that gives them the most dice to hit with. Your collateral dice after halving should still be inside the limit for attacking a harder target.
At this point, after three hours of play, we called the game. The remaining Russian infantry were a few hexes away in a wood line, waiting for the T-34 to restock and and return to the fight. Perhaps the T-34 would winkle the Germans out of the town, but real-life time for play had run short.
What I Think: Good Game...
Overall, the game was great fun. What makes the game unusual is the requirement for written orders, the sequential nature of order execution, and the need to husband ammunition. Writing orders in the game isn't arduous to do—once you understand the symbology of the cards and the abilities of the individual units. Executing them generally isn't difficult either and for the same reasons. Thus, the real learning curve of the game is understanding how to read symbology on the unit cards and in remembering how to employ the abilities of the various units.
...Needs (Better) Player Aids.
This is where the game hits its chief snag: there are no player aids. We spent most of the game reading and re-reading the pertinent sections of the rule book. The mechanics were fairly straight-forward, but flipping through the rules to remember what a particular symbol meant (so that the cards are language-independent) and how that affected play meant for a slow game.
The chief visual appeal is in the models. The sculpts for all the playing pieces are beautifully modeled and the detailing is very nice. These will make great playing pieces. The game comes with a Company's worth of infantry for the Germans and Russians (three infantry platoons (5-man stands), a company HQ (4-an stands), a mortar and MG section (2-man stands each), and a truck. Additionally for the Germans, a PzII, PzIII, a Stuka, and a Pioneer group. Finally, for the Russians, an ant-aircraft gun, a T-34, a 37mm anti-aircraf gun, and a 45mm Anti-tank gun.
Players are also encouraged to purchase a range of supplementary models for use with the game, including ones already found in the base game—in case you really like T-34s, for example! These contain the necessary laminated card to play the game and help round out the forces players may wish to purchase for scenarios. If you want to catch them all, for the Germans you can purchase an Me-109 and a 37mm anti-aircraft gun. For the Russians a 122mm Field Gun, a T-26 Light Tank, the Sturmovik (dive bomber), and the Lago (fighter plane).
Conspicuous absentees that can't be purchases separately from the base game (yet) are trucks and company headquarters. (At least, these items were not for sale at my FLGS. I'll try to learn more.)
The base game retails in shops for $70. The supplementary kits are $4 apiece. (A great price for a T-34!) Infantry and their weapon teams are 1/72 scale. Vehicles, Tanks, and Artillery pieces are 1/100. Aircraft are all 1/144.
I think future games will go quicker, but it is now incumbent upon me to build the models. Since I went ahead and bought some extra infantry and weapon teams—as well as the models not found in the base set—I have some work ahead of me. There are also several notable things about how the game makes you think about the units and models. For example, conserving ammunition is an important aspect of the game if you don't want to waste precious turns trying to resupply depleted units.
Also, orders take time: often, to perform a specific act (such as digging in) you units must dedicate time to doing that. They can't fight unless assaulted and have to start all over again if they are interrupted, such as by failing a Fortitude Test and becoming suppressed. Even loading and unloading trucks or deploying/withdrawing weapons takes time. You have to account for that in your planning and hope that you can do it before your opponent catches you flat-footed. (I guess this is a convoluted way of saying: you have to plan ahead in this game.
I'm looking forward to trying this one again!
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