I’m not going to lie, I’m obsessed with getting something fun/useful for little or no money. Since moving into our current neighborhood I have “rescued” the following items from my neighbors trash pile at the curb:
- A set of multiple filing cabinets
- Some metal shelves for the garage
- A complete Fisher stereo system WITH A WORKING 8 TRACK!
So it should be no surprise when I tell you that when I see a magazine game listed for 15 bucks or less I tend to pounce on it pretty quick. I’ve unearthed some real gems (see my glowing review of the cheap yet awesome Target Libya). And the way I see it, even if the game stinks sometimes it’s a way for me to experience a setting or game mechanic that I’ve been curious about on the cheap.
This was my mindset when shelled out $14 and picked up a copy of Strategy and Tactics number 132 with Iron Cross inside. It’s a WW2 East front tactical game that is zoomed in as close as you can get: individual soldiers.
Now I have almost no experience playing games at the tactical level. No Squad Leader (advanced or otherwise), none of the Lock and Load offerings, no Panzer Grenadier, not even Fire Team! In fact the only game I’ve ever played regularly that comes close to this scale is probably Classic Battletech. I’ve always wanted to check out SL/ASL, but it’s a little expensive and honestly I just don’t know how much fun I’m going to have playing it solo. So Iron Cross was a way for me to sort of dip my toe into this style of game and see how things went.
First I set up a very small game of my own design that was nothing more then a German machine gun crew and a few riflemen in a building versus a few Russian soldiers and a leader spotting for a mortar crew. It was just a way for me to learn the system and then jot down the following thoughts on the game:
- Individual soldiers makes for a really narrative gaming experience. I mean they have their names right there on the counter! I know that a lot of games that use the squad/half squad size units still have individual leaders with names. But having all the names on the board really drew me in.
- Individual soldiers makes for a lot of bookkeeping. In the standard rules you are mostly keeping track of the soldiers UP/DOWN status, if they are pinned down and if they have moved or fired. The optional rules allow for things like extended machine gun bursts and ammo tracking. Yuck. I know this is some folks jam, but tracking grenades and bullets every time a soldier fires is just too much work for too little payoff in a solitaire game. Playing face to face I might do it because it’s half the work and it creates a tension of “do I waste my ammo on this long range shot?”
- The simple UP/DOWN setting for the soldiers taking cover makes a lot of sense to me as a first time player and seemed to work well.
- There was justttttt enough page flipping and chart checking. Again, I can’t compare this to the more popular tactical games. But I felt like this this game was on the high end of my rules tolerance, while never crossing the threshold where I felt it wasn’t fun anymore. I mean, I’ve played (and enjoyed) Air Cav multiple times and that’s got a ton of charts. Actually, I guess that game is a tactical game…maybe I’m more of a tac-gamer then I thought! Getting back to Iron Cross, these rules are very simple and straight forward, and I felt they were laid out in a way that makes sense. But there’s just a lot of potential interactions that you need to remember to check depending on the situation.
- Can we just talk about how awesome this hand drawn map looks?
After I got comfortable with the rules I set up scenario #7 that was included in Moves #45. It’s perfect for solitaire play because it’s only six turns with a very small unit count. A handful of German soldiers (with the help of some landmines) are dug in and holding a hilltop against a Russian squad with mortar support. One side playing offense, one side playing defense is always a great solo play. I wanted to give a real impression of how this game plays, so here’s a breakdown of how the first Russian turn went down.
Per the rules in the scenario, the German side sets up on the hill first. The guys with machine pistols and flamethrowers are dug in using the improved position markers. At the center of that ring of fire is a peak where a machine gun crew, a leader and three riflemen are perched. The Red Army is spread out a little more. Inside a small building is machine gun crew and a rifleman to spot for a mortar crew located behind the structure. The force hoping to take the hill is two six man squads broken into three person fire teams.
Nothing going on here for the first turn, but normally this is where the you would attempt to get rid of any pinned or suppressed markers that have been placed on your units.
SUPPORT FIRE PHASE
First I tried firing the machine gun crew in the building, but they failed their performance check so nothing doing. I used the rifleman (acting as a leader, anyone with a PC rating of at least 9 can “call their own number” so to speak) in the building to spot for the nearby mortar crew. The key mechanic in this game is the performance check of two dice versus the performance rating (far right digit on the counters) to see if the unit does anything. You have to check for movement, firing a weapon and almost anything else. The mortar crew passed their PC, but the two rounds scattered. One landed on an empty part of the hill, but the second drifted over to the group of riflemen and leader.
The way this (and most attacks in the game) works is you make a separate attack for each unit in the hex. Three pinned and one suppressed was the final result.
One of my fire teams in the north attempted to fire on the flamethrower unit on the north side of the hill. Two of them failed their PC and the third fired to no effect. I don’t want to waste the fact that the rifle crew and leader up top are pinned down…guess we’re gonna have to get in close.
The game rules suggest making markers to keep track of units that have moved, fired or both. I just keep track with how I have turned the unit counters. Going clockwise, it’s moved, fired, moved and fired.
I was able to move Leader Pavlov and his fire team only one hex before they were pinned down by machine pistol fire. Any “non phasing” player unit that hasn’t fired can take a potshot in this phase with a small penalty. I forgot to flip them before I took the picture but the Russians should now be in the “down” position.
Another one of the fire teams managed to move a few hexes before being pinned down by the machine gun crew on the hill crest. Unlike the infantry, machine gun crews do not have a penalty during opportunity fire, which resulted in two suppressed and one pinned Russian units.
Finally, I attempted to move my last remaining fire team towards the center of the hill. Rudenko failed his PC, and refused to budge. Bobkin and Govorov moved on without him all the way to the start of the hill. This scenario allows for the Germans to have four landmines. The way I simulated this was just a 1/4 chance of any hex being mined. The roll showed the hex was clean, so no mine attack. I placed one of the assault markers (arrow) to show that I was planning on launching an assault later in the turn.
REACTION MOVEMENT PHASE
This is where non-phasing (German) units can make a reduced movement as long as they didn’t use opportunity fire. Apparently the only phasing (Russian) units that can attempt opportunity fire during this phase are anti-tank units or in the advanced rules (which I am not using here) some machine gun crews. Since the Germans can now see the assault is concentrated on one side, Roseler grabs his machine pistol and scurries into the foxhole where Hoffmann is prepping his flamethrower.
DEFENSIVE FIRE PHASE
Most of the German units at this point have already fired, but the flamethrower on the south side of the hill is eligible here. Flamethrowers only have a range of two hexes, but they either suppress or eliminate any unit they attack! Yikes! Both of the Russians survive the attack, but they hit the deck! That’s going to prevent them from attempting an assault because pinned/suppressed units aren’t allowed to do that.
MOVING FIRE PHASE
This is the part where any of the phasing units that have moved but not fired get to shoot. But after carefully scanning the map…I don’t have any eligible units. The only group that had moved but not fired is pinned down.
I had planned on assaulting with the two soldiers that made it to the edge of the hill, but the flamethrower attack nixed that idea real quick. Nothing to see here folks! It’s really interesting how fast these turns are moving. I’m not sure how this would play out against a real opponent, but it seems most of the moving and shooting happens in those early steps. But I’m sure it depends on the situation.
If the assault had happened, it would have gone something like this:
- The assaulting units move into the hex
- You move all of the units (both sides) off the board to make it easier to track
- Normal status defenders fire first
- Pinned defenders and all attackers fire
- Suppressed defenders fire
- Take all the status markers off
- Lather, Rise and Repeat if necessary, but now all fire is simultaneous.
This looks to be a pretty lethal interaction, so I don’t see many assaults lasting more then one additional round after the initial clash
FREE UP/DOWN STATE CHANGE
At this point any unit can move to either the UP or DOWN position. And that’s it, one (half) turn in the books!
I have to say that while this type of game really doesn’t do much for me as a solitaire exercise, I really appreciate the rules set. With the exception of one area on the charts that makes it unclear about how many of the attack die should be rolled for targets on a hill, I found these rules to be very easy to follow. My gut feeling is I could teach these to a newbie during a few learning turns, and then be playing a “real” game later that evening. The sequence of play in these rules is so helpful. It includes all of the “did you remember to check…” issues and really kept me on track.
And if anyone reading this is a real old school ASL grognard (or a new-school LnL grognard) PLEASE holler at me in the comments or on Twitter about how this game compares to those “industry standards”. One of these days I really hope to go to a convention and sit down with a crusty old gamer who’s got a lot of experience with ASL and beg them to teach me the basics. But for now, I feel like this is scratching my itch to play WW2 squad/individual soldier level combat. Not bad for less then a Pizza right?
Final thought: Designer Mark Sprock looks like the kind of guy who would be more likely to drag race an IROC with Master of Puppets blaring on the speakers then design a war game in 1990. Rock on Mark! Your game (and easy to follow rules!) still holds up 30 years later!