Coming soon to BSoMT…unless we run out of Diesel …or we split a link in one of the tracks in which case it may be a little while before turrets and Tigers finally arrives…in fact none of the above is true any more for here it is in all of its anticlimactic glory…and feel to press play for that ambient battlefield experience as you read on…
BSoMT takes command of a Sherman and heads off for a brief trek across France sampling wine, cheese and Tiger-bread…well I will be driving the English adaptation actually! (the Firefly)… not only because I am of English origin, but because it also has a much better anti-tank cannon and there are a lot of nasty Tigers out there! If I am to be cannon fodder for them, I want to at least give back as good as I get.
Patton’s Best (my rather grubby and war-worn copy)
Curses! Stuck in reverse all the way across Western France. Out of bread and cheese…all these quaint little French villages are crawling with Tigers…French zoos really have a lot to answer for, you know……yes, I know Tigers are open field tanks but as Kelley’s Heroes is one of my all time favourite films, I always picture Shermans up against Tigers in the narrow French streets…how else would a Sherman stop itself from being blown to iron filings?
I’ve always had a fascination with mechanised elements of war…I don’t like war generally, have no fondness of war films (except the few where war is incidental to the principal plot like Kelley’s Heroes, Hannibal Brookes, Escape to Victory) but the development of armoured might…cunning, and often ludicrous, solutions to military conundrums, the tank has a place of admiration for me in recognition of its engineering, versatility, development and design concepts.
…well, now I discover I get to drive my very own Sherman across 1940’s France.
What’s All The Fuss About?
I have absolutely no idea if there is even the slightest fuss about this little title from the Avalon Hill stable of the 80’s. I made my copy as a print & play effort using files from BGG so don’t even know if original versions are available now (maybe for a gazillion quid on e-bay)
There is a vassal module for the game but, again, I don’t really partake in digitised versions of games, preferring the tactile nature of card, paper and whatever other tasty components are bunged in a game box.
And so back to the heading…I doubt this was ever a particularly popular title because in its day, solo gameplay was not what would be deemed “the thing self-respecting gamers do”. In today’s climate that is a completely different story and solo play has been on a constant rise in popularity over the last few years…and as a solo gamer, I decided to check this out after watching the Original Grognard play-through on Youtube.
Popular or not, I have to admit upfront I really enjoyed this game despite a number of, shall we say wrinkles?
Immersion or Subversion?
I don’t think the immersive nature of this game can be questioned. The way the game works really drops you in the turret hole and puts you at the spearhead of a unit moving its way across occupied territory…but more on the nice little mechanics later. Aesthetically the game is quite good. The landscape map is nice, the tank sheet is functional and the counter art I have used (not original work) is pleasant enough but it’s not going to win any awards for presentation. That said, it is the effective way the game plays out that is responsible for immersing the lonely tank commander into WW2 Northern France; not a reliance on pretty pictures to do the job.
Every small element of piloting a tank across a landscape is present from issuing commands to driver, gunners, spotters to the guy who polishes the bullets. There is so much more to it than ‘roll a die and move X number of hexes’. In actual fact the tank itself doesn’t move at all but I will touch on this later. This level of detail makes one feel that we truly control the destiny of the tank and its crew. Spotting enemy, discovering the sneaky beggars hiding in all sorts of terrain, relying on other tanks (off the map but still part of the group)…There is a point to the game and experience points are gained for a variety of achieved goals be it blowing up a an Elefant (zoos again…
no I refer to the Ferdinand variety of tank destroyer), or traversing a number of enemy sectors of control or simply drinking gallons of local wine…but this almost feels insignificant as all your time and energy is dedicated to just staying alive.
The entire game follows a rather lengthy but logical sequence of events, actions and situations each turn. The chart under the map leads us through each stage and there is nothing exciting or groundbreaking here. Where things do get interesting is with the handling of movement and relative positioning.
Movement is simple. A marker is moved from sector to sector showing the tank crews progress and indicating the potential likelihood of encountering enemies (number, strength etc) but the tank its self is a stationary marker in the centre of a zoned sheet. This controls positioning of enemies and their orientation with regards to the Sherman (facing, side on etc). Now hold on to your tank driver goggles because this is the interesting part. If the Sherman moved all enemies would move a zone towards the Sherman marker
As commander of the tank, the solo player has to think of, and track all the ammunition that may be required for a successful mission. Decisions like ‘will we meet mostly light resistance of troops and trucks…at which point HE rounds would be suitable …or are we likely to face a King Tiger…at which point AP rounds would have been more appropriate.
‘Spotting’ adds an additional level of realism. All armoured enemy, for example, would be considered a Tiger until spotted…making it important to identify foe in order to dispatch them readily and not take unnecessary damage
Needless to say, as with many solo war-game styles, there is death by a million charts which takes a while to become familiar with, but they are all straight forward and do a sterling job. Obviously this must be considered when considering tackling Patton’s Best.
There is a fan made version I have not looked at in much detail over on BGG that allows us to drive a Russian tank which sounds interesting for those with an Eastern Front orientation
There really is little to discuss here. This is first, foremost and only a solitaire game for one budding tank commander. It is a remarkable journey for the soloist and , although victim of death by charts (an unavoidable method of creating any form of realism for this nature of one player game), it is a novel way to explore warfare for one. The movement of our tank, both on the map and the overhead view are interesting…especially the overhead view…as everything is moved zonally in relation to the tank rather than our tank marker plodding around a hex map of Europe. There are a large number of steps to each round but do not be fazed by this fact as they are all clearly and simply laid out on the game board in the chronological order we are to take them, which speeds things up immensely. My only criticism is that there should have been some ‘table referencing’ on this part of the game…even if it was a simple colour reference (as each set of charts come printed on different coloured backgrounds) just to speed up the location of the required charts for various tests/encounters etc. but this doesn’t break the game, merely slows progress down a little as there are many, many charts to reference.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: Right out of the barrel I have to point out that this is a losers game…no, not a game for sad, solo players with nothing better to do…it is a game you are destined to lose. Are there any real winners in war? It is a great, entertaining tank battle simulation but ultimately there are so many foes to contend with that surviving to the end is pretty tricky. I assume not impossible but I have not managed it yet…I have not been discourages, mind you, as I love the way even a game as old as this still feels contemporary
- Rules is Rules is Rules: There is a 20 page rule book in a fairly standard War Game presentation. It covers all the game mechanics and identifies all game components in a military fashion. The game itself plays along a series of sequential steps, all of which are nicely posted on the gameboard. For the most part it is easy enough to follow but ‘death by charts’ is an unavoidable aspect of this nature of boardgame. The step by step procedure is good but could have benefited from a better referencing system to the appropriate charts. Once you get over this, the game actually works nicely.
- Lucky Beggers: It is possible to plan and strategies but ultimately a large proportion of decisions, placement of enemy and reactions are dependant on dice throwing and referencing the results against the many tables. Some luck gan be negated by actions but luck of the dice really is a foreground feature. Haters of dice beware
- Highs and Lows: Aesthetically this looks pleasant…a nice stroll in a Sherman through pleasant french orchards…but in reality it is a war simulation. If you think about the theme, it can become a little heavy but ultimately it is only a game so you draw from it what you will.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: My copy is in several segments but is somewhat indicative of the original game. If tokens, chits and charts are also taken into consideration for a comfortable uncluttered gaming experience at least a 1m x 1m space is going to be required…but I am sure it could be squeezed into a smaller space if one so wished to do so.
- Build It Up Just To Knock It All Down: Before you start…there are a shed load of tokens, markers and counters in this game so set up can be short (with a painfully slow game as we sort tokens as we go) or lengthy, line everything up nice and tidy and play quickly…ish. There are a number of tank options to choose from before the game commences requiring crew, munitions and several other odds and sods which adds adds a number of minutes more to setting up. It must be noted that the board it’s self has only a tank token and a progress marker on the map. The time to get the board and tank ready can’t be more than five or ten minutes so it must be the sorting out of tokens for the game encounters that consumes all the time. I would allow 20 minutes in total. Not a complex set up but more a logistic nightmare for ancillary set up.
Me, Myself and I:
This is a long time for me to be cooped up in a small, hot, smelly steel box with myself and I…but how else am I to drive over walls, crash through buildings and crush Citroën 2CV’s? It is a long game and bloody difficult to succeed in victory but to get that “Solo WW2 drive a tank for a month” fix, this is the one to get into. I liked the calendar mechanic used for setup and game play emulating real life in that some days it is simple sight seeing while other days all he’ll breaks loose and the board fills with Elephants and Tigers and bears, oh my! …it dictates the chances of encountering hostile enemy and works as a really descent game timer. Pure solo warfare with a nice approach to game mechanics but unavoidaly death by charts. It can be a pain sorting which chart is needed for each elementioned of the game (a colour reference on the game procedure sheet would help) but that asside, this a really entertaining solo journey through world war two.
Yay or Nay?
This is a tricky one. For me, as an enjoyable, testing solo title, it is a without a doubt a yay. I thoroughly enjoy it and, although each play is effectively the same mission, the variability of potential enemy contact make each game a new challenge each time I take to the Sherman command seat? That said, I would not pull this game out too often and I could see some people finding it a little dated and dry (especially with so many charts to have to refer to) I think this is a little like a story telling game in some respects…in that we tell a story of our journey across France as part of the spearhead force piercing German lines. The game can then become as deep and meaningful as a player wishes.
…if you look carefully on the caterpillar tracks, you may see stamped a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (6).
Something for the weekend, Sir?
- The Original Grognard play-through using the vassal module