Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Onslaught Review

After it absorbed SPI the role-playing game pioneering firm of TSR made a brief foray into the hex-and-counter wargame market. Besides continuing to publish Strategy & tactics magazine and many SPI-style board wargames, it also tried its hand at a more Avalon Hill-style approach, with larger counters, mounted board and the traditional "flat box" style packaging.
Onslaught was published in 1987 and took advantage of TSR's extensive RPG distribution network to appear in a number on mass-market venues. I bought my copy at a WaldenBooks in a mall, for example.
The box art implies that Onslaught was envisioned as the first in a possible line of wargames because it was billed as "An SPI Lightning Simulation Game," which implies that there would be others.
It's an interesting commentary on the state of the wargaming hobby circa 1987 that a "four-hour wargame" would be termed a "lightning" game.
The game itself is fairly conventional hex-and-counter fare in most regards, with a CRT, combat factor-movement factor cardboard units with NATO-style symbols and zones of control.
The most distinctive aspect of the design is its use of an "action"-based turn sequence instead of the more typical movement phase-combat phase player turn sequence used in most wargames.
Instead the players alternate expending supply points to activate stacks of units which execute attacks or movement. The Allies have by far the greater number of these supply points, which gives them the initiative and is responsible for their greater combat power. The combat factors of units on both sides are approximately the same, although the Allied units are generally a bit faster than comparable German units.
As befits a game that's meant to be "low" complexity and appear in mass-market retailers, Onslaught avoids a lot of the complicating details seen in most similar wargames. For example, there are no unit designations and all units of the same type have the same strength. All allied armor divisions are the same, for example, with no attempt to make a distinction between U.S. and British OB or between the "heavy" regimental U.S. armored divisions (2nd and 3rd AD) and the "light" combat command armored divisions (all the rest).
The game still manages to include rules for supply, armor breakthroughs, paratroops, terrain modifiers and a Bulge-style German counteroffensive, so it's still clearly a "real" wargame.
The game didn't attar ct a wide following at the time, perhaps being too much for the mass market and too little for the style preferred by the "hard core" wargamers of the time.
It's worth rediscovering though, as it probably fits the tenor of these times better. The graphic presentation was superior by 1987 standards and still acceptable by today's standards. The four-hour playing time is a little long by current practice but still easy to fit into today's busy schedules. The large counters are also pretty easy on older eyes and easier for fumble fingers like mine to handle.

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