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GrogHeads Reviews World at War: America Conquered

Unleash your inner Wolverine with the latest addition to the World at War family.

Reviewed by Scott R. Krol, 7 March 2014

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The World at War series from Mark H. Walker and his LNL Publishing is a series of tactical wargames set in a hypothetical mid-80’s World War III between the forces of  NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  Earlier titles focused on this cold war gone hot on the European continent, but now the war comes to North America with World At War: America Conquered (henceforth, WAW: AC).

Upon picking up the box for WAW: AC the first thing one will notice is that for a relatively thin box it feels like its made of depleted uranium.  LNL Publishing has filled the box with gaming goodness:  four 11” x 17” mounted maps, with European folds and no American valleys, over seven hundred counters, a couple of full color player aid charts and of course a rules book.  Unfortunately while all this fits snugly into the box prior to punching the counters, once the counters are punched there is no room in the box for the pieces because of the mounted maps.

Many dead trees contributed to your gaming pleasure.

Many dead trees contributed to your gaming pleasure.

 

The maps themselves, representing terrain in both Texas and Florida, are nice. The visuals may not be breathtaking but are simple and clean, with no confusion over what is represented.  Counters are of high quality, with an almost linen like finish.  Vehicles have full color side views while infantry and support weapons are NATO icons.

While many of the World at War titles have been expansions, WAW: AC is a complete, stand alone game.  Ownership of earlier titles is not required to enjoy WAW: AC .

The World at War system is a tactical (platoon level) system of ground combat.  While LNL Publishing rates its complexity as a 6.5, for anyone familiar with other tactical systems such as Panzer Leader and/or GDW’s First Battle series, will find the system quite easy to pick up.  Even newcomers shouldn’t have too much of a problem learning the ropes, so in reality the system is probably only a 4 or so in complexity.

The rulebook clocks in at thirty pages, but only half represent the rules while the other half is saved for WAW: AC’s thirteen scenarios.  Full color, with examples and designer notes peppered through the guide, it is a fairly decent manual although there are a few rough spots.  As an example, the explanation for what the stats on a counter represent is found in the manual, but the illustrations showing where these numbers appear is found on the players’ aid card.  A few rules appear to be slightly mangled, such as the concealment rule referring to concealed units within the line of sight of friendly recon units.  Surely it should be ‘enemy recon unit.’  All in all, gamers should be able to figure out the glitches without too much trouble, but another pass through the rules would have helped.

One of the Florida maps.  Feel free to hum the 'Golden Girls' theme while playing.

One of the Florida maps. Feel free to hum the ‘Golden Girls’ theme while playing.

The actual gameplay mechanics are quite solid.  All units are broken down by formations, either representing specific military units or collections of similar units (such as local police or mobs).  Each formation has a formation marker that is placed in a draw container at the beginning of a turn.  Along with the formation markers are markers representing the end of the turn.  During a turn someone draws a marker and that unit activates; moving, shooting, assaulting, et cetera.  If two end turn markers are drawn the turn ends.  If not all formations got to activate the next turn one end turn marker is held off until the turn after everyone gets to go.

By using a drawing mechanic instead of the typical IGOUGO format, WAW: AC keeps both players on their toes.  One cannot be content to simply sit back with a plan for the next turn based on the expected limitations of your opponent’s units.  Instead, the players must work out their strategies based on how their units activate, along with who is activating on the other side.  One turn may see a streak of good luck as one side draws their formations one after another, but then the next turn it goes back to a mixture of activations.  Some units even have multiple formation markers, an easy way to show better training without adding more rules.

As the (possible) alternating back and forth of unit formations resembles many miniature game systems, so does the combat system.  Eschewing the common combat results table, the World at War system uses a bucket of d6 type combat mechanic.  The attacker rolls a bunch of six siders, looking for specific target numbers, while the defender rolls their own d6 in an attempt to negate the attacker’s dice.  Every attacking die that scores that is not negated counts as a hit.

All the combat numbers are present on the counters themselves, so a quick glance will yield how many hexes a T-72 can use its AP attack, or its HE attack, how many dice get thrown for such an attack, what you’re looking for to roll, and if attacked how many dice it gets to roll to save.  At first the counters may appear to be too crowded, with these various colored numbers and superscripts, but after the first game one will fully appreciate how helpful is the layout.

The core system may be centered on tanks and infantry , but the modern battlefield consists of multiple types of artillery, various forms of air support, electronic warfare, and more. WAW: AC handles all of these, and manages to do so without much complexity.

Opening of the first scenario.  Police cruisers versus APCs...this will not end well.

Opening of the first scenario. Police cruisers versus APCs…this will not end well.

Artillery can consist of high explosive (HE), smoke, field artillery scatterable munitions (FASCAM), chemical agents, dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM), and multiple launched rocket strikes (MLRS) from either on map units or off map.  Each type only takes a paragraph or so to explain.  Air support includes on map helicopter gunships, fast movers, and even higher level air support to combat interdicting enemy airpower.  While the rules are a little longer than artillery, they are still totally manageable.  Likewise, other pieces of chrome, such as electronic warfare, are handled elegantly without bogging down the system.  Even the line of sight rules—something that can turn into quite a thorn in many tactical game systems—are easily digested and leave little room for tabletop arguments.

While having a underlining good mechanical system in place is very important to any tactical game system, these systems really make or break it on the strengths of their scenarios.  From the very beginning of his tactical games Mark H. Walker has always provided players with strong, exciting, and highly enjoyable scenarios and it is no different with WAW: AC.

The thirteen scenarios included here depict the “Alliance,” a group of Latin American communist countries and their Soviet allies, invading in force the continental United States in Florida (stand your ground sure has a different meaning here than it does in real life) and Texas (“I sell propane and propane accessories.”)  Initial scenarios tend to be smaller, with an emphasis on desperate defenses by groups like civilian police forces, while later scenarios are full-blown battlefields with groups of heavy armor, airpower, and artillery.

The unit compositions are interesting.  The American side represents everything from militia on horseback, SWAT teams, Marines, Canadians, National Guard, regular Army, and more.  Equipment varies from angry mobs with torches and pitchforks to M1 tanks.  The Alliance has Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Chileans, Cubans, and Soviets equipped with everything from World War Two armor to Hind gunships.  The Cubans are the most numerous of the belligerents, while the Soviets really only appear in token form.

As typical of scenarios found in Walker’s games each scenario begins with a fictional vignette to help immerse the players into a greater story than the usual, “just go out and make the other bastard die for his country” rationale.  Rather than bog down the rules with a bunch of specific mechanics that are only used for some scenarios, each scenario may introduce new rules applicable to that particular scenario.  While it does make the scenarios appear to be much more complex than they really are, it’s great to have all the special rules right there as opposed to having to flip back and forth through them.

Bonus Texan counters if pre-ordered.  Sadly, you have to make up your own Dale Gribble counter.

Bonus Texan counters if pre-ordered. Sadly, you have to make up your own Dale Gribble counter.

Overall the scenarios are quite good.  Amongst the thirteen there is enough variety, and special circumstances, that each one has its own feel.  Many are quite challenging for the Americans and their allies. Interestingly, by the end of the thirteenth scenario America has yet to be conquered (gotta sell those expansions!) so perhaps the more appropriate title should have been World at War: America Invaded.

Tactical wargamers are really living in a Golden Age at the moment, with a number of enjoyable systems available on the market.  The majority have chosen to focus on the Second World War.  The World at War series has always been a breath of fresh air, proving that just because the Cold War ended with the abandonment of communism, it didn’t have to end on the gaming table.  With strong mechanics, and terrific scenarios, World at War: America Conquered is another great modern tactical game, and as a standalone title there is nothing barring your way from adding it to your gaming library.

 

Grumpy Grog Sez:  Kill a Commie for mommy!  Experience one of the greatest fears of the ‘80s (besides the popularity of hair metal) on your game table with this fast playing, exciting tactical wargame.

 


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