Sunday, December 28, 2008

My 2009 gaming wishlist #3

My lifelong interest in WW2 and in refighting its land battles are already familiar to my regular readers. Some of you might remember too that passing reference to my "rediscovering the geek that was a teenage tankie" when I wrote a couple of weeks ago about getting hold of Conflict of Heroes, which is to say that some 3 or more years' gaming dominated first by Memoir'44 and then by Combat Commander have thoroughly rekindled that oldest of my gaming passions. For months now I've been looking for games that might tempt Badger to dip his toe into the world of operational-level wargames. I'm hoping that this next game may prove to be the one.

Corps Command: Totensonntag
The first in an intended series the 2nd of which is already in the works, Peter Bogdasarian's Corps Command: Totensonntag was published in 2007, but passed me by until I had decided to embark on the aforementioned hunt for quick'n'dirty games set at brigade or higher level. The theme of armoured desert warfare in 1941 was interesting enough; and the colourful map and counters were attractive too; but it was the game's self-proclaimed simplicity and the unique initiative system that did it for me. The game proved to be out of stock at Second Chance Games, but I eventually found a copy at the ebay shop of BattleQuest Games.

The box
I can truly say that I was initially a bit startled by the package I received: carefully boxed for the post as it was, it just looked too small to contain what I was expecting. It did. It was just that what I was getting wasn't what I was expecting. What I was expecting was a game in a standard bookcase-size box. I got instead a box the size of a medium-sized paperback (that size that comes between standard paperbacks and trade paperbacks). I'm far from complaining about this. I know minigames like this are not unique in today's industry, but I like the idea because it reminds me of the proliferation of minigames from a multitude of small publishers which was such an exciting feature of adventure gaming in the early 80's.

The pieces
Anyway, readers will by now have grasped that Corps Command: Totensonntag is a neat little package the contents of which pleased me. The counters are lovely to behold, bright and colourful with evocative pictures of tanks and armoured cars. Just as I said the other day about Battlestar Galactica, the graphic design is good, with thougtful use of text, colour and layout to convey information. Word on the net has it that there are 1 or 2 flaws here, but I am as yet in no position to comment. I can merely say that the counters are exactly as attractive as they need to be to attract someone who's not already interested in a corps-level WW2 tacsim about the first battle of Sidi Rezegh, ie. your average gamer as opposed to a confirmed WW2 geek.

I have read complaints that the counters are too thin. Well, they are very thin, it's true; thin enough to cause conniptions among some (OK, I exaggerate), they are thinner than the classic wargames counters of, say GMT, which makes them a lot thinner than what you get from companies like FFG. In a game where stacks could be as many as 6 counters high, I guess this could inconvenience some, as I will surely learn one way or another. One thing about the thin counters though: they were perfectly cut, so that they just fell out of their sheet and separated with the greatest of ease. This is exactly the right impression to create with someone for whom a game like this might be their first wargame (or even just their first product from Lock N Load games).

The map
I like the map. I'd read criticisms of the map which I couldn't understand until I got my hands on it. It's a very thick cardboard map of the sort that has to be cut halfway through at each fold. This map folds down into 8 sections in order to fit into the undersized box. I can see that this map won't sit very flat under its own weight. This is what I think people were complaining about. My answer: blutak! In any event, the map is very pretty, done in suitably sandy hues with some nicely designed player aids around the edges. And y'know, there's something about this map that reminds me of the original Ogre map. I wonder if this is just me?

The rules
The rules are remarkable. I can't yet vouch myself for how solid they are, but the game has received a lot of play and generated few errata, so that's a promising sign. What's amazing is that the rulebook is an 8-page A5 booklet; or, to look at it another way - the actual rules of play could indeed fit on 2 sides of A4. And as if brevity wasn't merit enough, the rules have that initiative system I mentioned.

This is really simple: each unit has a Initiative Rating (IR), ranging (as far I can see so far) from 1 to 5. Each phase, both players roll 1d6 to generate an Activation Number (AN); the higher roll gets to go first in that phase; only units whose IR is greater than or equal to the AN get to act in that phase; and moving units have Movement Points equal to that phase's AN. There are a few tweaks, but that's the core. I'll leave readers to figure out for themselves the implications for gameplay of how this system balances acting first, against frequency of activation, against how much a given activation might achieve. All I can say is that this deliciously simple idea looks like it should generate really tense gameplay.

Corps Command: Totensonntag looks like a real gem. As a game that might interest someone new to board wargaming it looks to me to be as well thought out as it is attractive. The rules are no more complex than those of Memoir'44. The recommended playing time of 2 hours strikes me as realistic, perhaps even on a first game, with the result that there's always time to play something else if you get this out on the table to begin a games session to try to teach it to someone. I like the look of this game a lot. More when I've played it! ;)

My 2009 gaming wishlist:
- #1: Combat Commander: Pacific
- #2: Battlestar Galactica

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