By Harvey Mossman
Everything Old Is New Again
A few years ago I took my family to a local Balloon festival and the Beach Boys just happened to be giving a concert that night. There I was with my wife and three young daughters dancing to the music I had enjoyed thirty years ago and thought I had long since outgrown. Yet despite my daughters “God, Dad!?” looks, I still got those Good Vibrations from some basic good old time music. What’s my point? Clash of Arms Games title War Without Mercy is one of those games that bring you back to the good old days of wargaming. It is a game system of renovation rather than innovation, borrowing tried and true game systems from the seventies and eighties that mesh in to an enjoyable, fast paced, good old fashioned “play me” wargame.
If you can get past the cover art on the box, (just what type of animal is being skewered I’ll never know) you will find some of the most beautiful graphics to ever grace an East front game. The map and counters cry out to play this game.
The basic system is right out of the old SPI era with Igo Hugo, stop upon entering a ZOC, a 2nd movement phase for motorized units and a 6 hex supply trace to a railroad leaving your side of the map. The combat results are straight out of the seventies with Ax/Dx attacker/ Defender eliminated, Ex for exchanges, and Hx for half exchanges. There are a few Dr’s thrown in. Units are rated for attack, defense and movement. There are die roll bonuses if you have predominately armor fighting infantry and leaders give a beneficial die modifier also. There are overruns at 6:1 or 7:1 odds if you have some positive modifiers that guarantee the defender’s elimination. Overall there is nothing old grognards haven’t seen before.
Some interesting twists to combat have been added. The attacker may decide to attack the whole defending stack or mass against single constituents while doing low odds soak off on the other units. The only stipulation is all defending units in the stack must be attacked. After motorized units perform exploitation movement at half their movement allowance, any units stacked with leaders may attack a second time. There is also an air game where players launch fighters, bombers and transports in to combat in an air sub-system that is the Europa system on Fen-Phen.
A naval sub-system is also included but I must admit I cannot vouch for the rules as there is not much naval action on the East Front! The rules seem straightforward but the true test will have to await the next game in the series on the Western Front.
Lastly there are weather rules providing for some randomness to the German misery of the first Russian winter, supply rules where units out of supply slowly lose more effectiveness as each turn of isolation passes, eventually increasing their chance of surrendering. There are no production decisions to be made as reinforcements are historical and replacements depend on losses the previous game turn. There is a Campaign game of all four years, and several small scenarios covering each year of the war, including the invasion of Poland.
So how does it play? Being manly men we jumped right in to the full campaign. As in all East front games, the Russians trade space for time, trying to keep some units alive while praying for the snows to come early. German armor starts to outrun its infantry support making it difficult to press home the attacks without exposing these precious units to a Russian Counterattack. In the mid game, Russian attritional attacks take their toll on the strong German stacks, and as units can infiltrate form ZOC to ZOC, the porous German line begins to crack. German air units rule the skies early but eventually succumb to the growing presence of the Red Air Force. The game moves along at a brisk pace and feels like WWII Eastern Front combat. It is tense and fun!
If I have any quibbles it is about the air game. Bombers can load up on one hex and even if unescorted, their air ratings are as good, if not better, than many fighters. Even though fighters get a beneficial die roll modifier against bombers they still seem to suffer inordinate casualties attacking a large bomber group.
In summary, Clash of Arms Games has provided a game with something borrowed from tried and true systems of the golden era of wargaming. It is a beautifully crafted package that old time wargamers can enjoy like the old music my daughter’s wince at now. New gamers will enjoy the ease and underlying simplicity of the system. So like the song says have “Fun, Fun, Fun”.
My Custom Ratings
- Graphics: Almost as good as watching a Pamela Anderson photo shoot.
- Wristage: Being a physician, I will not get rich with visits for Carpal Tunnel syndrome from this one.
- Rules: No rules lawyer will take it on contingency for this one. Pretty straightforward and clear even for Johnny Cochrane.
- Playability: Superb! Just the right amount of simplicity and chrome.
- Historicity: Not being a big “Eastern Front” fan, I can’t say with certainty, but all the major units, players and terrain seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
- Overall: Like Bill Clinton’s Humidor, you’ll be reaching for this one again and again.