Monday, December 26, 2016

Tin Soldiers in Action - A review-

People who know me will know that I am a compulsory collector of war gaming rulesets. I own dozens and I never tire of reading new ones. Be it skirmish or big battalion, card driven or IGO-UGO, 70ies style stencils or full colour hardback tome, they can all be divided into three categories; “Oh it’s one of those”, “Let’s play this” and the most interesting of the three: “Hey that’s funny….”

Tin Soldiers in Action, written by the brothers Rüdiger and Klaus Höfrichter, definitely falls fairly and squarely (heheh, just wait…) in the last category. 

TSiA is an attractive quarto sized hardcover book of a sizeable 270 pages in black and white and a full colour centre section. 270 pages!?  Yes. And no, it is not a complex and intricately detailed simulation, it’s actually a rather fast-playing game written with exactly this in mind. It is meant for the late 17th century up to the start of the Great War.

The game radiates old school classicism. The book opens with a thorough index and explains the motives of the writers and the principles of the game in clear (and to my 50+ eyes) pleasantly large font. As a matter of fact, the book’s athmosphere takes you back to the days of Charles S. Grant when rulesets were books which calmly explained how a game worked to people that had time to read this in rest and earnest. So the book meanders from some gaming philosophy via scales and dimensions to unit organization, weaponry, formations and special troops to game mechanics. Thus pass the first 90 pages or so with few tables, some illustrations and clear text.  

The combat mechanics are well-tried, based on D6s per figure (or gun) and work with range and terrain modifiers that simply divide or multiply the number of D6s rolled. It is in Movement and terrain that the game produces its novelty. TSiA does not use classical ranges and distances, but instead works with a square based grid.

This initially put me off a bit. The advantages were of course obvious: no need for measuring, no discussions about movement ranges or relative distances, no discussions about firing ranges. But what would separate TSiA from a board game? And I really like my terrain; how good could a table look with a grid?

As it turns out that could be just as good as a normal table. As long as you are willing to use coordinates on the side of the table and support the grid with terrain. For example, a wall or a river may form the border between two grids. As the colour pictures in the centre of the book testify, this will result in very attractive table tops!

This extreme simplification of terrain would have had consequences for some of the classic dilemmas of war gaming: moving across or into difficult terrain. When a unit simply moves one square, how about speed and slowing down? This is cleverly countered by causing troops that enter difficult terrain to become disordered instead of slow. Disordered has some undesirable consequences so even on a grid, difficult terrain is not something to take lightly.

Morale also enters into the game under the label of “Tenacity” and is a factor of a unit’s size. 

For the game sequence the designers chose another game favourite of mine: the game is card-driven. Normal playing cards are used. A number of card turns make up a game turn. Each unit has a card upon which it may take action. This may be one or more actions depending on the vicinity of their commander. These actions happen during the phases of a card turn. Actions are ordered (announced) and Tenacity is tested. At the end of a turn close combat takes place and then a next card is drawn, restarting the turn until all cards have been drawn and the next game turn begins.  

All this –having seen it played a few times- makes for a quick and entertaining game that does not seem to suffer at all under the lack of flexibility in movement speeds and firing ranges

Furthermore the book offers tips and rules for terrain, special troop types for all kinds of areas, army lists for the Age of Reason, the Napoleonic and the Victorian Age, alternative forms of organisation (i.o.w. a point system) and several scenarios with extensive description and variations.

Finally the book offers a FAQ and a Quick Reference Sheet which is, despite the book’s hefty page count, a mere 2 pages long.

As stated, I have seen the game played a few times but have not yet gotten the chance to play it myself. Still, games were obviously fast and enjoyable while still employing a rather large number of miniatures. The grid based movement sets the game apart from the mainstream war games and is, in that respect, more abstract. Still. it doesn’t seem to detract from the experience that the players are playing a miniature battle.

Conclusion: innovative, definitely something different and resulting in an enjoyable game: recommended!

Tin soldiers in action
Rüdiger and Klaus Höfrichter
Partizan Press 2016
Hardcover, 270 pages
Price around 30 euros