I am not generally a wargamer, unless the wars being gamed include powered armor, elves or off-road vehicles with rocket launchers mounted on the hood. Reenactments of actual global conflicts tend to leave me underwhelmed, especially because most of them insist on using cardboard counters and flat maps when the rest of us have moved on to three-dimensional terrain and painted miniatures. I like to blow stuff to pieces as much as the next blood-soaked psycho, but I would rather not get a history lesson in the process.
Which makes it a little odd that I really love Conflict of Heroes. It’s definitely a wargame, and even one of those games with cardboard squares that have a collection of numbers on them. The first of the series is called Awakening the Bear, and is all about how Germany plowed straight up Russia’s frozen asshole and nearly took Moscow back in the early 1940s. Many of the confrontations in Conflict of Heroes actually happened, and feature units who were really there. Happily, unlike many of the wargames that I generally dislike playing, it moves very quickly and can be intense and action-packed, even though you’re moving cardboard squares on a hex grid. Best of all, when you’re playing, you can almost smell the unshowered soldiers filling their pants when their trucks get blown off the road.
The main reason Conflict of Heroes is so enjoyable is that it is a small-scale simulation, not one of those huge monoliths where one cardboard counter represents 500 tanks. If you’ve got a cardboard square with a picture of a tank on it, that’s one tank. Two guys running a machine gun? That’s two guys with a machine gun. So when a near-miss sends them into a panic and they’re crouched behind a stone wall and calling out for their mothers, you can picture the scene and kind of point and laugh. Unless they’re your machine gunners, and then you’ll be yelling at them to man up and go kill something.
Conflict of Heroes introduces a few concepts that make this squad-level combat move quickly and smoothly. The best is the action point system. Each cardboard square gets seven points to do stuff, with the difference being how well you do that stuff and how long it takes. Your machine gunners might be able to throw lead far down the field at the four guys huddled inside a stone building while the windows are being shot to hell. Tanks might be fast and agile or slow and cumbersome, but it really all comes down to how well each unit uses those seven points.
To improve on this concept, and make the game a little more unpredictable, Conflict of Heroes also uses command action points, which are these extra points that you can spend to make your guys do just a little more. Make your tank fire while the barrel is still hot. Send those exhausted soldiers over the wall. Scream at the cowering candy-asses and get them on their feet. Using your command points properly will be the difference between accepting defeat and reveling in victory.
In fact, nearly everything in Conflict of Heroes works wonderfully, from the quick resolution of an attack to the surprise twists of fate. Damage is determined by drawing counters from a cup, and cards provide undeniable advantages to those who can use them properly. The game moves fast, plays easy and best of all, lets you imagine the action as it plays out.
I won’t pretend that it’s without flaws, however. My biggest complaint is that the rules for those seven action points are a little absurd, the way they’re written. Your units generally have to spend all their points before anyone else can do anything, or they forfeit the rest of the turn. This leads to a scene where one squad of infantry will sit quietly behind a tree, reading Shakespeare and knitting tea cozies until they get the chance to sprint into action. Why would they not run forward at the same time as their fellow soldiers? Because they’re not done with their tea, I suppose.
Happily, my old man had a great suggestion to beat this particular issue – we put numbers on a whole bunch of tiny cubes, and every time you do something, you count down the cube next to that unit. Then you can use another unit to do something, which means that if you’ve got guys flanking from the right while the dudes in the middle draw fire, now you don’t have to take turns. It works great – but it raises other issues, because there are still going to be moments that just don’t make a ton of sense. We had one situation where a group of Russian tanks rushed forward while the Germans sat on a hill and watched them, and then the Germans leapt into action and drove down to get close. The Russians had spent all their action points, so they couldn’t even fire at the Germans who drove half a mile singing campfire songs at a leisurely pace before parking in the middle of the Russian formation and launching explosive ordinance at their exposed backsides.
That’s actually the biggest complaint I have with Conflict of Heroes, and it’s not much of a complaint – sometimes it’s just a game. The simulation has to give way to the rules, and the rules can be exploited. Hell, the point of a game is to use the rules to your advantage. So not every scenario you see will make sense. Some situations will just be what happens when the points and cards tell a player he can do something real people could never do.
But seriously, if I got bent out of shape about every game that ever put the excellence of the game before the simulation, I would never be able to play anything. HeroScape will see whole teams of warriors standing around like idiots because you’re out of order markers. Warhammer Quest will have an empty room suddenly be flooded with orcs who apparently crawled out of the stonework. The more a game attempts to simulate a real situation, the more you’re going to see game rules forced to abstract reality. Conflict of Heroes is still just a game, and I wouldn’t want it to be real because I don’t actually want to get shot in the face.
So instead, I choose to overlook those occasional failures in simulation and enjoy the hell out of a game full of exciting twists, heroic defenses and lightning assaults. Conflict of Heroes will walk you through the rules, with each scenario building on the last, but unlike most games with that tutorial approach to learning, every battle is fun to play. We’ve played about a half-dozen games at this point, and when my dad comes back to town again, I hope to play more. Maybe by then I’ll pick up more of the game, because right now I just have that first Russian one, and I wouldn’t mind playing through Operation Market Garden or the Battle of the Bulge. I guess if it’s exciting, I can live with a history lesson.
Fast and smooth
Clever rules keep the game moving without sacrificing the simulation
The second edition looks beautiful
Teaches the rules as you play, and is still fun every time
At some point, the simulation has to come second to the game
Coolstuff has one of these left. Hurry, and it could be yours.
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