Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812-Kickstarter campaign live

Following up on my earlier post about the upcoming strategy game, Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, I wanted to share in a brief post that the Kickstarter Campaign Hand2Hand Entertainment is starting for the game is now live.

The stretch goals look quite interesting, including extra scenarios, units, and illustrated battle cards. One thing to note is that the project is based in Canada, so the backer levels will be in Canadian dollars, but are converted into USD below. To get a copy of the game will set you back about $57 based on the exchange rate. Thus far, the project is 20 percent towards its goal.

My only critique of the campaign is that they have the backer level jump from Recruit at CA$75 where you get one copy of the game and all stretch goals to Officer at CA$340, where you get five copies of the game and all goals. In my humble opinion, I feel a middle-level “NCO” backer level in between those two, where a backer could get two, or three copies, would also help entice folks to back the game, as this is what I have seen from other board game campaigns. I also feel this would be nice, as then a backer could opt for this to have their own copy of the game and give one (or two) as a gift.

I do hope you will consider going to their Kickstarter campaign and check it out and, if you are so inclined, support it, as the game does look interesting.


An exciting new game on the War of 1812

Cross-posted to Frontier Battles and Military History Blog.

I was recently contacted about a new two-player strategy game that deals with the War of 1812 that will be launching on Kickstarter later this week. Created by Hand2Hand Entertainment, Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 looks to be an interesting and tantalizing game that employs a mechanic similar to the game Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, though with some differences. You can view a video they have created below.

I recently reached out to them for a Q & A via email with Eric, one of the creators and wanted to share it with you all to let you know about this game.

How long has your company been in existence?

Our founder started working on Sabres and Smoke: War of 1812 in July of 2016. Sabres and Smoke is our first game.

What is your company’s overall mission?

We want to create a game that has a high level of historical accuracy but is also fun and not to complicated to learn. We hope that this get people interested in the War of 1812 and want to learn more about it.

How did you come to choose the War of 1812 as the conflict you would design a game around, and, what interested you about this particular conflict?

We chose the War of 1812 because there are very few other board games that focus on the War of 1812. There are lots of games that focus on other wars but we thought a game featuring the War of 1812 would be really unique.

How did you decide on the style of game to create, and, did you consider other types (miniatures, point to point map, etc.)?

We considered elements from different games that we really like and how we could bring those elements together to create something different that we could call our own.

How long was the design process from conceptualization to prototype?

The design process took a very long time. We started making rough drafts of the Battles in August of 2016 and had finished our final prototype of the Game by April 2017.

What has been the biggest struggle during the design and play testing process?

The Biggest struggle was finding different people to play test our game. We played the game ourselves a lot but had difficulty finding other people to play it in the early stages. Since then we were able to have multiple board game bloggers publish reviews of Sabres and Smoke and give us some really valuable feedback. We also play tested it with some 12 year olds to make sure that kids enjoy the game as well.

This question is for those interested in designing their own game. How did you go about designing the components and where did you source them?

We actually did all of the illustration and prototype design ourselves. Creating the prototype copies was very labour intensive for us, it involved a lot of printing and cutting on our end. The only part of the prototype games that we did not make ourselves were the plastic stands and the dice, which we used from sample orders we received from our suppliers.

Why do a Kickstarter campaign?

We decided very early on that a Kickstarter campaign was right for us because it would allow us to raise the money for Sabres and Smoke before it goes into production. This helps reduce a lot of the financial risk that comes along with producing board games on a large scale. Also, a Kickstarter launch is a great way to get people excited about our game.

What are your favorite elements of the game?

My favourite part of Sabres and Smoke is the way units are ordered. A lot of other games like like this have rules that make it difficult for players to carry out their battle strategies. In Sabres and Smoke, the only thing stooping a player from executing their strategy exactly how they planned it is the other player. This adds depth to the game and forces players to think more strategically than they might when they play other games.

Did any interesting situations arise as you play tested the game that potential players should be aware of, or that you realized needed editing?

Not really. There were a few minor things like typos in the rule book and certain battles needing to be more balanced, but there were no major changes that we needed to make to the game.

Do you have plans for expansions of Sabres and Smoke, or creating similar games around other historical conflicts?

We have some extra battles that we are using as stretch goals for our Kickstarter campaign and maybe for an expansion pack to be released later this year. We are not sure what type of game we will create next or if we will create further expansion packs for Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, we have been focused lately on making this upcoming Kickstarter a success.

What is the best way to reach out to you regarding the game itself, and/or looking to get involved with your company?

The best way to contact us is by email, you can reach us at People can also reach out to us by sending us a message through our website and can receive more information and updates about our game by joining our mailing list. This can be done through our website

I would like to thank Eric for his time and will be following this project in the coming weeks and am seriously considering backing this, if my finances permit it.

Review of Escape from Colditz

I was privileged to receive a copy of Escape from Colditz about a month ago from Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, who is famous for its series of military history books. I was pleased to be able to finally test play the game with some friends at Broken Sentry Games, a new store in Grand Forks. It was a great time as we navigated the rules and planned our moves. I chose to be the German guards and prevent the escape.

History of Colditz Castle

The game is actually a reboot of a version of the game, with the same title , that appeared in 1973. It is based on the real story of Oflag IV-C, a German POW camp in Colditz Castle that housed Allied officers that escaped from other camps. Several attempts to escape the prison were unsuccessful, but a few were, including Pat Reid, who was one of the designers of the original game.

Several tunnels and bed sheet ropes were constructed to attempt to help prisoners escape. One unique story is that prisoners constructed a glider, named the “Colditz Cock,” from various materials in the camp, which had a wingspan of roughly 32 feet and was to be launched via a pulley system on a runway made from tables. Though the real glider never flew, a replica was built and flown.

Game Components

Osprey outdid itself in the quality of the game pieces. The box art is stunning and the board is quite nice, including the logo being printed on the underside, something I have not seen before.9781472818935


In addition to the box and board, the other components of the game are quite nice. The cards are sturdy and have nice artwork on them. The pawns represent the nations represented (Americans, British, Dutch, French, Germans, and Poles), more specifically Allied prisoners of war and their German guards.

Another fun thing with this game are the surprises hidden among the game components. There are several replicas of artifacts related to the real history of the POW camp, including a postcard from a prisoner to their family, a Red Cross care parcel, a German Wanted poster for escaped prisoners, and a leaflet urging Allied prisoners to cease escaping. The biggest surprise is hidden in the box and I will not give it away, as you will have to get the game to find out, but it will be worth it.

Rules and Game Mechanics

The rules are pretty straightforward. POW pawns are set up in the white-shaded area of the central courtyard of the castle in a specific way, based on the number of players. The game supports 2-6 players and our play test consisted of four of us, which I felt was a nice balance to grasp the workings of the game.

Each round ends with the German player, with each player rolling dice to determine available movement points, which allows the player to move any number of its pawns up to the die roll. If a player rolls doubles, they may re-roll and add that total to their double roll. Further, if a player rolls a total of five or less, they may draw either an Opportunity Card (Allied players), or a Security Card (German), which can be used during their turn to bring about various events that can aid an escape attempt, or hinder it.1118162019

Allied players navigate the castle, attempting to gather their items needed for their escape kits and equipment to help in the actual escape from the castle, all while trying to avoid arrest and being thrown in solitary confinement, or being shot. Once outside the camp perimeter, the POWs attempt to reach one of several targets on the board that signal a successful escape. The game ends when either two pawns of one nation successfully escape, or the countdown marker reaches the eagle (zero rounds left) and no escapes have succeeded.

The game seems to progress fairly quickly and the cards can affect play in many fun and unique ways. Further, you can feel a little rush when a pawn attempts an escape and the player is attempting to reach a target, or stop an escape.1118162158

One unique aspect of the game is that the rules from the original 1973 version are included in the rule book to allow one to experience the original style of play, which includes “Do or Die” cards that offer the chance of a player getting out by making a break for it. However, there is great risk, as if that player fails, all its pawns are “killed” and removed from the game.


There is much to like about this game, from its relatively simple mechanics and rules, to its beautiful components. That said, there are a couple criticisms I have on the game. First, the circular spaces that pawns move and land on are a bit too small and tight, which can create a cluttered situation on the board in some regards. Coupled with that are the size of the pawns themselves, which are easy to slip out of one’s fingers and slide a bit easily on the board, which can knock other players’ pieces from where they may have been. Slightly larger spaces on the game board would alleviate this issue, as well as perhaps putting a surface on the bottom of the pawns to prevent them from sliding on the board as easily would also solve this minor problem.

The other has to do with the number of rounds in a game, which the rules suggest starting at 50, with an option of starting at 40 if players are more experienced. Given our game took over 3 hours (despite it being our first time), it seems that 50 rounds might be a bit much and the board has marks for up to 70 rounds. That said, like the issue of board spaces and pawns, this is a minor issue that does not significantly impact my feelings on the game overall.

Final Thoughts and Ratings

Escape from Colditz is a great game with a unique and exciting theme that will appeal to a wide variety of gamers, from those into historical games, to those who enjoy strategy with a twist. Osprey did an amazing job on this reboot of a classic and it’s one that you should have in your game collection.


Components-5 stars (an awesome board and game components with the addition of replica artifacts and a wonderful surprise too)

Rules and Mechanics-5 stars (relatively simple and easy to learn, plus the optional 1973 rules are a nice touch)

Design-5 stars (beautiful artwork and game play)

Price-5 stars (At $65, you definitely get your value with this game.)1118162220

Some thoughts on historical gaming

As I have engaged this hobby for the last couple years, I have seen several different genres of gaming beyond the historical realm, including sci-fi, fantasy, trivia, and futuristic, to name a few. I also encountered several scales, from small skirmish to large-scale games featuring hundreds of miniatures (especially at Historicon). We all have our favorites and why we enjoy them and why we do not necessarily care for others. I consider myself mostly a historical wargamer, though I have enjoyed various other games with former co-workers at the Chester Fritz Library. This leads me to some thoughts on historical wargaming and what attracts me to it.

First, as an academically-trained historian, who enjoys military history, wargames are a nice, light-hearted outlet for my interests, allowing me a different vehicle to engage the public and talk about my craft. They are wonderful illustrative tools that allow folks the opportunity to explore something historically without cracking open a thick text (rule sets for some games notwithstanding). Games force us to consider deeper questions about a period or specific event, especially how a change to any given variable related to the event can alter how it might play out. While some in academic circles scoff at the so-called counterfactual history (the what-if), I find it fascinating to consider.

Second, historical wargames are gateways to examining history through research. Case in point, many miniature wargamers will diligently research the available histories on a particular unit to find out what the equipment they wore and used looked like in order to duplicate this in their models. When I arrived at Historicon, I was told that my audience may pose questions and break out into discussions related to very detailed aspects of the clothing and equipment of Civil War soldiers (actually, none did, as my talk discussed some of this anyway). This is a different type of research from what I typically do, where I am setting out to see where existing evidence takes me in order to craft a substantive argument about a historical person, place, or event. Rather, it is more the realm of what some scholars would term the history buff, or possibly the antiquarian. I found that when not engaged in some aspect of game play, the small talk in between our turns usually discussed something historical in a deeper way, whether the material culture, or books on the event. Further, I have used games as an opportunity to suggest sources for folks interested in the broader period that a particular game covers, thus hopefully causing them to venture out and seek more knowledge.

Finally, a good historical wargame teaches teamwork, cooperation (especially if you have several players a side), and sportsmanship. You can only get away with certain behaviors when you are face to face with your opponents. This is especially true with younger players, but is not meant to fade away as we age (no one wants to deal with someone throwing a tantrum, whether they’re six or sixty). Plus, there’s something about nicely-painted miniatures on an elaborate table top that draws kids, who come and ask us about it, allowing us to stop and talk with them about it. This is especially the case if we happen to be basing our game around an actual historical battle.

Two books that come to mind are Peter Young’s The War Game (1972) and Mega Wargames: Big Battles, in Miniature, published by Wargames Illustrated, which are great for taking several prominent battles in history (especially Young’s work) and using miniatures to illustrate the battle that they are discussing. Such use of visuals is great for reaching different types of learners. In addition, though not necessarily wargames, the series Reacting to the Past uses the role-playing game (RPG) format to introduce students to complex historical ideas in a fun and unique way.

Overall, I find the inherent value of historical wargaming, and gaming in general, to be in its educational potential. For youngsters, reading comprehension can build by reading rulebooks and learning to memorize and follow said rules. Learning to paint miniatures, or create a table requires artistic ability and building some miniature models can improve motor skills (I also find painting at times to be relaxing). Players are forced to do some rudimentary research if they want to play a particular unit in a historical game. Finally, the socialization and teamwork components to such gaming can not be stressed enough, as I have made several good friends through the hobby and have also had to learn how to handle losing without losing my temper and be a “good sport.”

Does this mean that science fiction or fantasy theme games are not valuable either? No, but I believe that an educator would be much more inclined to use a historically-themed game than another genre simply because of the easier way of incorporating it into a curriculum (see Reacting to the Past). I’ll admit to my bias towards this area of gaming given my career path thus far, but I will also say that in today’s era of digital technologies, gathering around a table to play a game is something everyone should do and historical games may be just the avenue to do it.

My trip to Historicon

I wanted to take a moment to offer my apologies for not having much content over the last six months, as I have been quite busy both starting a new teaching job and also finishing working at my job at the library, which kept me busy through the summer. I do hope to get more content up in the coming weeks, as I’m hoping to get more folks to add content, as we have a new game store, Broken Sentry Games, here in Grand Forks, which has an awesome and friendly staff.

My summer was also busy because I had the privilege of giving a presentation at Historicon 2016. For those unfamiliar, Historicon is the largest historical miniature wargaming convention in North America and is held in mid-July in Fredericksburg, Virginia, having previously been held in Pennsylvania. It is put on by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, who also hosts Cold Wars held in March and Fall In in November.

This was an awesome time, as I took my dad along with, since we could also take in some Civil War history too while there. My talk was on my master’s thesis topic, Civil War camps of instruction in Illinois. The group of around 20 who sat in on my presentation were a diverse group, including an Australian army veteran, and offered some awesome questions and discussion. Having been to professional historical conferences in my career, where questions usually are more academic in nature and arguments over theory and interpretation often are the norm, I was delighted to engage in a laid-back conversation on my subject with people who were passionate about history from a hobbyist angle.

Beyond the talk, dad and I took in the larger convention that same day. Imagine a large convention center full of historical miniatures of all periods and scales, as well as a large vendors hall that featured some of the big names in the industry (Battlefront and Warlord Games), some smaller enterprises (Sergeants 3), and publishers, all selling miniatures, terrain, rules, boards, books, and magazines. We were both overwhelmed and amazed.

I met two great folks, Steve McCall and John Dunn, who were my contacts for the event and got to engage my passion for history and my hobby of miniature wargaming. There were over 500 games being presented over the four days of the event. Also, my talk was part of a larger series of talks known as the War College. There were also courses on painting and other aspects of gaming that made up their Hobby University. Finally, a few tournaments were also held at the event, including the Flames of War nationals.

I’m hoping to get back to the event next year, but for now, I will leave you with pictures from the event, as well as a Youtube video from Wargames Illustrated on the event to give you a feel for the scope of it.

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New Battlefront plastic kits review and thoughts on Tanks

As I have expanded my Flames of War forces, I have dealt with kits that are resin and metal, or resin and plastic with most of my tanks. Since Battlefront released their new Open Fire set last year (I have the set from 2012), which included new two-pack boxes of tanks and vehicles to expand the core set, a new series of plastic kits has been released to cover several types of vehicles.

I picked up three boxes of Panzer IV H models for a total of six tanks to go with my five resin and plastic Pzr IV models that I already have to allow me to create a strong Panzerkompanie force for the game. I have to say these kits are very nice and fairly easy to assemble. What is nice about the new kits is that Battlefront is using a peg system instead of the old method of rare earth magnets. While the option is still there to use such magnets, I prefer the peg, as it allows the turret to fit nicely on the main body and stay there.

Another thing I do like is their reasonable price. The area game store I buy from prices them at $13.05 for the box, which is a fairly reasonable cost per model. If you are looking for a nice kit at a reasonable price that can be the foundation of a solid German Flames of War force, definitely pick up the new Panzer IV H plastic kits.

In addition to these new plastic sprues for Flames of War, the new game from Gale Force Nine, called Tanks, which Battlefront developed to be a new skirmish game launched back in the spring and is a nice, fast-paced miniatures game that pits smaller forces of tanks in a 3 x 3′ table. The kits for these minis are similar to Battlefront’s range of new plastic kits for Flames of War, except being molded in colorized plastic for those who just want to get them together and play.

The starter kit, which I picked up is nicely priced at around $25 and includes everything needed to get started in the game from all the vehicle cards, crew cards, accessory cards, damage cards, tokens, dice, cardboard terrain and three tank models (two Shermans and one Panther). Also, several single-vehicle kits have been released to introduce other nations to the list of possible forces, including British tanks and Soviet tanks. What is nice about this game is that while the kits made for it are also very nice to build, the game is the same scale as Flames of War, so players of that game can also get into Tanks, which can serve as a nice gateway into playing more complex miniature games.

If you are looking to get into historical miniature games, you can’t go wrong with Flames of War, specifically the Open Fire starter set, or take a try at Tanks to do a simple skirmish game with historical minis.

Hail Caesar: Thoughts on Ancient Wargaming

Yesterday, I headed to Little Big Wars to take in our Game Day for Red River Area Wargamers (RRAW). We played Hail Caesar, which, as its name implies, deals with ancient warfare. Our forces were the Western vs. Eastern Roman Empires. It was fun, though I learned I need practice at leading cavalry.

Hail Caesar is a game from Warlord Games, who also makes Black Powder (17th-19th century period), Pike and Shotte (15th-16th century), and Bolt Action (World War II) to name a few. Its mechanics are similar to Black Powder, where you must pass a roll equal to or lower to your command rating in order for your orders to be successfully followed. Once you engage with your orders and combat, or melee (if you charge into contact), you then roll dice to allocate hits and determine the winner of melee.

For our scenario, we played the historical Battle of the Save, which occurred during the Roman Civil War. The team I played on represented the forces of Magnus Maximus and the Western Roman Empire. I commanded Flavius Victor’s (Magnus’s son) cavalry division on the right flank. While the Hun cavalry was less of a threat, the better-trained Eastern Roman cavalry was a sufficient match to me, and the dice was not always on my side, resulting in my losing 4 units, and breaking from the field. Despite our right flank collapsing, our forces were victorious against the center and left, allowing us to alter history and claim victory.

If you are into ancient historical miniature gaming, definitely give Hail Caesar a try, as while a bit complex, it is fun to recreate the ancient battles of history on the table top. I will leave you with some pictures of our game. Until next time, play smart, be respectful, and have fun.

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Victrix 1/100 Hawker Typhoon Review

Today I will be reviewing the 1/100 Hawker Typhoon by Victrix. The Hawker Typhoon was a British fighter originally designed to be a high altitude interceptor. The Typhoon was initially beset by many problems such as engine reliability, exhaust leaks into the cockpit, and the minor but unfortunate habit of shedding its tail at inopportune moments. However, by 1944, the Hawker Typhoon had most of the kinks worked out and was by now an excellent low level aircraft most famously used in the ground attack role, where its four 20mm cannons along with two bombs or eight rockets proved incredibly deadly to German troops.IMG_0471

On to the review. Victrix’s offering comes with 3 typhoons in a box for about 45 US dollars, not a bad price for such a nice kit. The aircraft are contained on two sprues, one opaque, and one clear, along with a flight stand. The parts are well molded and have no blemishes such as ejector pin marks and the like, and my kit had no flash to be seen. The aircraft are well detailed, with nice panel lines, and even an interior with a crew figure. The kit also comes with two propeller options (3 bladed for an earlier Typhoon, and 4 for a later Typhoon) as well as options for bomb or rocket loadouts and choice of either retracted or extended landing gear. This last bit was the first minor problem I saw with this kit, and that is the fact that the tail wheel is molded in the extended position. This is problematic if you want to do a Typhoon in flight, as the tail wheel was retractable and would have been almost flush against the fuselage in flight, but this is easy to fix and I will describe that process later. The other minor problem is that the clear plastic used for the canopy was both thick and not perfectly clear, which means it may be best to leave out the interior and just do a painted windscreen. That is not a problem for me as I generally do painted windscreens at this scale anyways. IMG_0473

For markings, three different options are provided, along with a full color guide on how to paint the aircraft. No specific manufacturer for paint colors is mentioned, so you’ll have to figure out which paints in your preferred brand to use on your own. This isn’t terribly difficult considering the fact that pretty much all British fighters in a given period and theater use the same basic pattern and colors. Another interesting thing is that they chose to include invasion stripe decals. While it may seem like a great idea, I imagine that it might be more work than just painting the things, so I intend to give those a pass. One of the typhoons in this box is going to a different home, so maybe I’ll be able to get an opinion if they try to use them.


One error was noted on the color profiles and that is  that the two on the left have the squadron descriptions mixed, the description for the top aircraft is actually for the bottom aircraft (I noticed this while researching the various paint schemes)IMG_0474IMG_0475

The Instructions are well illustrated, and straight forward, with excellent computer rendered designs and color coded parts. one thing to notice is that you will have to drill holes in the wing for either the rockets or the bombs, and I would recommend not attaching the bombs or rockets until the aircraft is painted, as they will make the invasion stripes a nightmare to paint or apply.


Construction was a breeze, with the parts fitting together excellently. The above picture shows the correct placement of the radiator front, with the circle sitting closer to the bottom than the top, this was unclear in the instructions, but a quick google search cleared up the matter.


here is my modification for a retracted tail wheel, I cut the wheel off at the strut, then cut the wheel itself in half and trimmed it to fit in the rounded nook where it would rest in flight. This is a simple conversion that should be done to maintain the proper look of the aircraft. Another tail note is that you need to make sure you have the horizontal stabilizers lined up properly, as the fit is not completely snug, and they will sag a bit while the glue cures, so just look at it head on and make sure they’re on right.

IMG_0478And here is the finished product. The only thing left to do is paint it and then attach the rockets and bombs, and then it’s off to the front!

Overall I found this kit to be excellent, with just one or two minor issues. Assembly was easy and anyone with some building experience should have no issue putting it together. An excellent kit at an excellent value. My only major criticism is that I wish they just let you buy one, as most games only require you to have one aircraft on the table. However, most of us can easily find some other use for the spares, or at the very least another person who would be willing to buy them, so it’s not a terrible situation. Also the flight stand that they included with the model is rather clunky and difficult to adjust. It also has a very large footprint, which will make placing the model on the table difficult, which is why I chose to discard the stand in favor of a custom built one. I would highly recommend this kit, it is light years ahead of anything Battlefront produces in the aircraft department.

Some thoughts on Land Ironclads

On February 20, I visited Little Big Wars in Fargo, ND for our monthly gathering of Red River Area Wargamers (RRAW). As one of our members was recovering from arm surgery, we were privileged to experience the merging of historical gaming and the genre of steampunk via the game Land Ironclads (you can check out its Board Game Geek listing here), where we played a scenario related to the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, including the charge of the Light Brigade. I played on the Russian team and manned the large leviathans used to represent the heavy guns that would resist the Light Brigade. The experience was quite fun and interesting.

Land Ironclads and Contraptions battle.


In a typical historically-based game, the table features lots of lovely painted miniature figures of infantry, mounted troops, artillery, or vehicles, depending on the period portrayed. Land Ironclads examines the concept of an alternative late 19th century, where steam power is much more powerful and technology has progressed several decades ahead of historical reality, as our forces included various steam-powered machines and contraptions akin to the British Mark IV tanks of World War I.

An Aeronef approaches.

In addition to our land-based forces, we also combined the game Aeronef into the overall scenario. Aeronef covers the same concepts as Land Ironclads, but in an aerial format. Thus, our forces also consisted of large Dreadnought-type vessels that are capable of flight and provide a great deal of support and can rain down destruction on the land ironclads if needed. The Aeronefs allowed the Allied forces of Britain and France to achieve victory over the Russian Empire.

Russian forces (far right) bloodied the British.

The mechanics are relatively straightforward, as you move your units and, if a target exists, you can shoot, though you will be unable to shoot the next turn, as you will have to use your action to reload. You also have the potential for your vehicles to break down, depending on your die rolls. Each vehicle has various ratings related to their abilities, and if you take enough damage, your abilities are reduced based upon a roll of a D10.

Overall, the combination of historical scenario with steampunk-type setting was refreshing, as I am not one for much in the way of fantasy/sci-fi style games. In the case of Land Ironclads, I would make an exception.

Rating (scale of 1-5):

Theme: 5

Playability: 5

Miniature Quality: 5*

Cost: Looks relatively inexpensive

Overall: 5

*Our GM, Malcolm, hand built his pieces and they were very well done.

In closing, Land Ironclads is a game that bridges several different genres in gaming and offers something unique and amusing that is well worth considering if you are in to alternate reality and are a fan of H.G. Wells, whose short story The Land Ironclads (1903), likely inspired the creators of this game.

Cromwell Tactics


Today  I’d like to talk about what I feel is one of the best medium tanks in Flames of War, the Cromwell. I will cover the basics of the tank, tactics, and some list building advice. First though, it’s time for some history. In WWII, the British school of tank design focused on two types of tank, the infantry tank, and the cruiser tank. The infantry tanks, were essentially more modern takes on the WWI ideas of what a tank should do. They were slow, heavily armoured, and geared towards advancing with the infantry and neutralizing any threats that could make life hard for the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry). The Cruiser tank, on the other hand, was more like an armoured form of cavalry (in theory). Their job was to break through the enemy lines and create havoc in the rear areas. To that end, they were designed to be fast, but most were lacking in the armor department. For the first 3 years of the war, they were also woefully undergunned. However, in 1944, the game changed radically. Based on the painful lessons learned in the desert with the earlier cruisers, the Cromwell tank was the first truly successful Cruiser tank design. It had a reliable engine, a dual purpose gun, and finally some decent armor. The Cromwell tank would go on to outfit the recce regiments of all British armoured divisions in Western Europe, as well as those of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. In addition, the Czech Independent Armoured Brigade, and the British 7th Armoured Division were almost exclusively equipped with Cromwell tanks.

Now, let’s look at the Cromwell in Flames of War. The first thing we notice is that it is very similar to the Sherman Tank. It has the same armour (6/4/1) and the same 75mm gun (Range 32″, AT10, Firepower 3+). As an interesting side note, the gun is actually a 6lbr re-bored to take American 75mm rounds. The Cromwell also has two machine guns, one in the hull, and a coaxial. Where the Cromwell really starts to shine is its speed. unlike the Sherman, which plods along at 12″ per turn, the Cromwell is classified as a Light Tank, so she screams along at a blistering 16″ per turn. Many an opponent has been caught unawares by the speed of the Cromwell and the ridiculous feats they can pull off thanks to that most important attribute. Another advantage that the Cromwell has is that it has Protected Ammunition, so you are less likely to sit outside the tank twiddling your thumbs when you get bailed out. Another strength that so many Allied players forget, is that since the Cromwell (also the Sherman, and a few varieties of Churchill tanks as well) has a 75mm gun, it also has the capacity to direct fire smoke. The use of smoke in appropriate situations allows you to take far fewer casualties, and should be abused at every opportunity. Another fun rule you get, being British, is the Semi-Indirect Fire rule. This allows you to re-roll misses when firing at targets over 16″ away provided you didn’t move. For Cromwells, this is not often used, as they are an agressive and mobile tank, but can be very useful when defending against medium tanks (FA6 or lower, otherwise hold your fire until they get within 16″), as you can generally out-duel equally trained opponents.

However, along with all the benefits, the Cromwell does have some drawbacks. Its front armour will not adequately protect them against a great many of the weapons it will face, and the saves you do get to take will generally be long odds rolls, so don’t get shot. Use cover and speed to add negative modifiers to the enemy shooting, or better yet, to stay out of sight. If you are going to get shot, and you are not sure if you can hurt the enemy with your shooting, lob smoke in their face with your 75mm guns to make your own cover. The other weakness is the gun, with an AT rating of 10, it is fine against mediums, but anything with an armor rating greater than 7 becomes a challenge to bring down. Fortunately, the Cromwell is fast, so if you play smart, you should be targeting the weaker side armor of enemy tanks after the first turn or two. The lack of high AT capability can (and should) be mitigated through either your support options, or (depending on what force you are playing) may be balanced through the inclusion of Fireflies or Challengers within the Armoured Platoons.

So now that we know what makes the Cromwell tick, how do we use it? To answer this question, I will draw on my experience playing Cromwells from the 7th Armoured Division (the vaunted Desert Rats), which is slightly different than some of the other options because each platoon of tanks comes with a Sherman Firefly for Panther and Tiger hunting. However, the same basics apply. The first thing you need to know about playing Cromwells, is that you need to be aggressive. Everything about the tank is aggressive, from the speed, to its average gun. You need to close with the enemy fast, break through his lines if you can, and engage him where he is least prepared. Against heavy tanks, this is especially critical. Even if you are packing Fireflies or Challengers, you cannot afford to duel heavies at range, you will not win. You need to get up close and personal and shoot them in the side as quickly as possible and with as many tanks as you can. To this end, use smoke and terrain to provide cover on the way in so that you minimize your losses. Always remember that because your tanks are fast, you don’t have to take the enemy head-on, you can strike to the side or rear, and even redeploy if you really have to. The Cromwell is best used as a precision instrument, not a hammer, and it should be wielded accordingly.

Against medium tanks and infantry, recon becomes important, as an ambush of 3 or 4 medium guns or tanks will absolutely ruin your day and cost you a platoon. I’d rather get jumped by a pair of tigers than a quartet of Panzer IVs (hereafter referred to as Mk. IVs) any day. Recon is also a must for dealing with infantry. The British don’t have any breakthrough guns or bunker busters that are readily available (and the AVRE Churchills only get a 4″ range, which is definitely not ideal or terribly useful) so removing gone to ground enables you to get more hits, and thus kill more. To that end, focusing on support platoons to try to break the enemy company (like artillery, anti-tank gun platoons, tank units and other crunchy/small units) and striking decisive blows before the reserves arrive is crucial. Assaults are also ill advised due to the prevalence of integral AT assets (bazookas, fausts, PIATs, etc.) make it hard to pull off successfully, if not completely suicidal. It is important to note that the best way to clear out dug in infantry is not shooting, or assaulting with Cromwells, but through good old fashioned infantry assaults, and fortunately, the British have excellent infantry (large rifle platoons, British Bulldog rule, wide variety of ratings).

Another thing I want to cover is the option to move at the double. Most people consider it suicidal, and many times it is. However, with the speed of the Cromwell, 32″ can get you a long ways, and if there is no threat of ambush or a high probability of something nasty turning up from reserves and you can get out of sight, then it will allow you to penetrate deep into enemy territory and threaten weak units and objectives. Moving at the double is something that I feel is underused in this game, and with just a bit of practice, it can yield great results. Just don’t get shot by stationary teams, or lots of them.

Defense is a bit of an odd situation for Cromwells. It will almost always occur when fighting against enemy tank companies. The key thing is knowing when to open fire, and what to target. If you are fighting Mk. IVs and they wander into the open, rip into them at long range from cover, you can out duel them provided you are equally or better trained (trained vs vets at range is a losing proposition for the trained tanks). If it’s a Stug, or larger, wait for them to get within 16″ before firing. If they have brought heavies, stay gone to ground until they get close, then pounce and hit them in the flanks while the Firefles/Challengers (if you have them) provide covering fire. Above all, make your ambush count, and always focus fire on a platoon until it is dead. Break the enemy upon your guns, one or two platoons at a time, and never forget that your speed allows you to get aggressive, even on the defense.

On to list building. I won’t cover each possible option for fielding Cromwell, as that would be long winded and unnecessary, as all Cromwell forces should abide by the same general principles. Firstly, you want to have a healthy number of tanks. Unless you are running CV Welsh Guards, you should have 3 armoured platoons, maybe even 4 if you only have the three Cromwell platoon options (Normandy Recce Squadrons come to mind). If you can take 4 tank platoons, do so, as 4 is a stronger number than 3 for morale. Artillery is optional, as your tanks have their own smoke, and you should have enough tanks to pin infantry with machine guns. Infantry is a tough choice, unlike the Cromwells, they are slow, so getting the transport to go with them is not a bad idea, whether that be trucks, kangaroos, or M5s (motor platoon). As I have said, infantry is the best antidote for dug in infantry, so I find even a motor platoon can be a nice asset. Infantry also make a decent plan for dealing with heavy tanks, as the PIAT can reliably bag top armour two tanks, and the British like to stay in assaults. Now, there is a support platoon that I do consider to be essential, and that is Recon. Most Cromwell forces have access to a platoon of Recce Stuarts. Take them, they are stupidly effective for their points cost if you know what you are doing. They are the ultimate rear area harassment tool. They can stop ambushes, threaten objectives, lift gone to ground, intercept infantry and gun reserves, mercilessly devour unsuspecting nebelwerfers and even take out tanks. If you are unfortunate enough to only have access to Stuart Jalopies, go with the armoured car options, as the 2lbr is far more useful than a .50 cal.

On the other hand, one option I would never take are the M10C Achilles. They may have an excellent gun for killing heavy tanks, but their thin armour and slow speed really makes them a much better infantry support weapon and ill suited for offensive lists. M10s taken with Cromwells (or any offensive list) are simply a liability, a waste of points, and an easy kill for the enemy. Air support is another thing I wouldn’t use. You are simply too fast, and will get within the “wave-off” distance too quickly to make use of expensive Typhoons. One final thing to note is that you want to have an even number of platoons. Unless you have more than 6 platoons in your force, an odd number of platoons is worse than death, you end up having to leave important assets off the table, and will find yourself lacking enough mass to achieve success against the enemy.

My usual Desert Rats Cromwells look like this at 1500pts:

CHQ (2 Cromwells)

2x Armoured platoon (3 Cromwells, 1 Firefly)

Armoured Platoon (2 Cromwells, 1 Firefly)

Stuart Recce platoon (3 Stuart V)

Crusader A/A platoon (2 Crusader A/A)

Motor Platoon ( 4 MG teams, 1 light mortar, 1 PIAT, with 4 M5 halftracks)

6 platoons, all Reluctant Veteran

I feel this list has a good balance to it. It has what it needs to get the job done, and has the numbers to do it. All the assets are mobile and aggressive. The list is completely built around the strengths and weaknesses of the Cromwell. Various things may change depending on what list you run, or what units you like for support, but the core concept to build upon is aggression and mobility. Plan to attack. I’m not discounting the fact that you may often find yourself defending, but a mobile and aggressive force can bring its reserves to bear faster than a defensive force can, and in a defensive battle, this is a huge asset. Smart play is critical to ensure that you have more men brewing up (making tea) after the battle than you have brewing up (exploding) during the battle.

So, there you have it. My treatise on the care and keeping of Cromwells. I would highly encourage fans of British forces to try running Cromwells. They are a joy to play, and are no less forgiving than Shermans. However, the thrill of being able to outmaneuver your enemy so thoroughly is what really makes them great. To those who face Cromwells regularly, I would say know your foe, and never underestimate what their speed allows them to do. To forget that is to invite disaster. Good luck, and good hunting!