First Impressions: Mark H. Walker’s Lock’n’Load Heroes of Stalingrad

The Grumpy Grog says “This is a new line of attack on an old campaigning favourite.”

Developed by Lock n Load Publishing and published by Matrix/Slitherine

First Impressions by Boggit, 23 February 2014

Click images to enlarge

I’ve never played any of the Lock’n’Load games before, so this is a truly fresh look at this game. I am looking at this game with the beta update v1.04. The game is tactical in scope, and each hex represents about fifty meters across, each turn represents 2-4 minutes, and each counter is a single vehicle, an individual, or a group of soldiers: for example, a half squad, or a weapons team.

Starting the game for the first time, the player is set up at the introductory level. This is a particularly forgiving mode that can be changed in the main menu. I immediately changed it to “hard”, which runs the game under unmodified rules. “Normal” gives a dice bonus. Rash perhaps, but you’ll see no signs of weakness from me!

 

HoS1

The options screen gives a good choice of items to customise your game.

The main menu gives the usual options. Essentially it is the place to start a new game, load an old one, create missions and scenarios with the editor, and to play multiplayer. In multiplayer, the user needs to set up a Matrix/Slitherine account and you’re then taken to the Multiplayer lobby. From there you can create a new game for someone to play with you, go onto the forum, and can check-in on your own games. I’d seen this before with Field of Glory, and it is a very user friendly multiplayer system. I’m glad they didn’t reinvent the wheel on this one, as it works, and works well. The only downside was a very empty multiplayer lobby, but to be fair, the game’s just come out, so that should change with time.

After checking out multiplayer, I started  a  single player game. This comes in two distinct flavours: campaigns and scenarios. There are 23 scenarios, of which 6 are multiplayer only. Two are recommended for German play, and one recommended as being played only by a Soviet.  Unless either there are future scenario packs coming from the developer, or the editor is friendly enough to encourage the development of scenarios by the Lock’n’Load gaming community, the present seventeen, single player scenarios make the longevity of the single player scenario experience a bit thin. Fortunately that’s actually two more than described in the game’s product description, which is a testament to the regular updates that this game has seen since its recent release, and a positive thing about the developer’s attitude to supporting the game. Ominously, the editor describes itself as “complicated, undocumented and scary,” which doesn’t sound encouraging for community scenario makers. There are also 12 tutorials designed to get the player rather painlessly into the game, but which I wouldn’t class as independent scenarios.

 

Sgt. Wurtz indulges in a bit of wishful thinking. Note the nicely drawn and very ASL like map behind the cameo card….

Sgt. Wurtz indulges in a bit of wishful thinking. Note the nicely drawn and very ASL like map behind the cameo card….

The meat of the game is in the campaigns: one German, one Russian. From a brief look at the two campaigns, there appears to be no duplication with the stand alone scenarios, which is a plus . According to Matrix/Slitherine’s product page, the game features two branching campaigns for a total of thirty three scenarios (fifteen Soviet and eighteen German), which adds more flesh to the bones of the game.

I started with the German campaign to gain my first impressions. So how does the campaign game play out? It starts with a storyboard cameo to engage the player with the game characters. It’s not essential, but adds a nice touch.

The game is essentially a board-to-game conversion. It looks a bit like a digitized Advanced Squad Leader game, and while there are some similarities, it does have its own personality. The game is presented attractively. Maps are well drawn, and it is clear as to what terrain is represented. Unit counters are both attractive and functional, having all the relevant information on them – firepower, range, movement, and morale. There is also a manual provided, which seemed clear and unambiguous. The rules cover all the basics: Fire, melee, movement, artillery, vehicles, and other matters like the effects of smoke, airstrikes, night fighting, fanatical troops etc.  It ticks all the right boxes.

Heroes of Stalingrad plays out over a set number of turns, organised in phases; rally, operations (consisting of a number of tactical impulses alternating between sides until all movement, actions are done, or there are three passes between the players), and an administrative (removing moved and fired markers etc., ready for the next turn.)

 

Sgt. Wurtz has now been promoted to a Lt.! Note the highlighted objectives looking temptingly close…

Sgt. Wurtz has now been promoted to a Lt.! Note the highlighted objectives looking temptingly close…

The impulse system is absolutely core to the game. I personally found it laborious in single player, and I’d think it will be time consuming to play a game in multiplayer for the same reason. I personally wasn’t keen on it, but I recognise that other gamers might find it an elegant way to play out the game, providing the opportunity to react quickly to developments within a turn. Essentially, during each impulse you activate units in a hex. They move, fire, or perform other actions, which effectively ends their further involvement in the current turn. You then pass over to your opponent or AI for their impulse to be carried out, until all units have done something during the turn, or pass doing nothing by choice.

 

Wurtz gets wounded in the first turn. But out of adversity a hero is born… into a field where Iron Crosses grow! Wurtz is going to get home after all!

Wurtz gets wounded in the first turn. But out of adversity a hero is born… into a field where Iron Crosses grow! Wurtz is going to get home after all!

During an impulse, events can occur like the finding of a special skill, which adds a trait to a counter. In the case of the above screen shot, a squad leader has the ability to behave heroically, or display leader qualities. Another feature is the occurrence of unexpected events. In the first campaign scenario this is the appearance of civilians in the form of a little girl. It’s up to the Germans to get her to safety. Her death is also a mission failure. Personally, I find this an artificial situation, given the tactical requirement to seize the bridge and the general lack of consideration by the Germans towards the well being of Russian civilians. That said, it introduces unexpected variety into the scenario, which some players might find refreshing. But remember… I’m a Grumpy Grog!

 

Events can come as quite a surprise at times. Who’d have thought it?

Events can come as quite a surprise at times. Who’d have thought it?

My first impressions tell me that this is an attractively presented game, with some comprehensive and innovative features. It is a fresh approach to tactical warfare gaming.  It’s an acquired taste, but it will definitely appeal to those who enjoy a very deliberate gaming pace  precisely for the way the game system works.

The Grumpy Grog says “This is a new line of attack on an old campaigning favourite.


Discuss this article in our forums >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *