Monday, January 26, 2009

Review: Stirke North

Command No. 39 may have been the best gaming value for a single issue of any wargame magazine with three (or four, depending how you count them) full-scale wargames included.
Besides Hoorah!, a "what-if Civil War game (reviewed elsewhere), the magazine included Strike North!, which could be considered two or three full-scale wargames on its own. While there was just one map, there were two sets of rules, three sets of counters and five very different scenarios included, covering historical and what-if campaigns in Scandinavia in World War II at 20 miles per hex.

Although sharing the map scale, and some rule sections (basically they didn't repeat the basic 'common-sense' rules such as how to read the Combat Results Table twice), the 1940 and 1943 scenarios use different game systems. looking at the 1940 system first (although it's second in the rule book) we find the 10 pages of rules describing a low- to medium-complexity wargame reminiscent of the Budapest '45 system, but with enough significant differences to be considered new. Like Budapest'45, there is a one-for-one relationship between steps and combat strength. A unit with 4 combat factors as four steps. one with a combat factor of 10 has 10 steps, etc. But the combat value is not tracked on a roster. Instead the combat value is printed on the counter and the counter is flipped or a new counter is substituted when the value changes. Preserving the "fog of war" are FOW counters bearing national flags which are kept on top of the units. The FOW counters do double duty by tracking when a unit has performed an action. As each unit moves or fights the counter is flipped to the "done" side. Twice a turn the counters are flipped back. There's a flippin lot of flippin in the game!

Every turn represents two days. Each side alternates moving units one at a time in the movement phase and in the combat phase each side alternates resolving battles. The base movement allowance is just "1" which will take some getting used to for many players. A road bonus can add a movement factor but the only way to cover large distances is rail or sea movement, both of which are restricted to certain units at certain times.

The combat results table is of the usual XTR numeric step-loss variety.

There are two scenarios. The first is the historical invasion of Norway in 1940, the second is a "what-if" examining what might have happened if the Swedes had intervened on Norway's behalf. Both games revolve around capturing cities and towns and eliminating units in 15 turns. In the historical scenario the Germans have the initiative and have to capture more than they start with. The German forces are much stronger than the Allies and the situation is largely a delaying action for the Allies, although there is some scope for sharp counterattacks and raids against unwary Germans. With the Swedes in play the initiative switches to the Allies and the burden of attack is on them, to drive the Germans back before the Spring campaign in France overshadows things.

The 1943 rules switch to weekly turns with mostly one- and two-step units in the standard attack-defense-movement factor arrangement. Those standard units are used as described in a standard set of XTR wargame rules that are 18 pages long. There won't be any surprises for veteran wargamers in those rules, which are solidly "moderate complexity."

The 1943 game has three scenarios. The first one looks at a planned German campaign to conquer Sweden, which would have gone forward had the Kursk offensive gone well. As the chances of Kursk going well were rather small, this can't be considered a particularly likely "what if," but the Germans DID draw up plans for it.In this scenario, only, the German divisions have up to five steps. Their aim to to drive through Swedish lines and capture key locations. As the Germans capture victory point locations the Swedes become more likely to surrender. The exact surrender point is determined by a die roll. Putting pressure on the Germans, they only have five game turns to do it. The strict time limit and nature of the victory conditions provides a strong hint as to the chances the Swedes can stop the Germans.

The second scenario looks at what would have happened if the Allies decided against a landing in Sicily and headed north instead (which was one of Churchill's ideas). It's hard to say whether or not this was a good idea. Hitler feared a Norway landing and kept strong forces there until the end of the war. A success there would have liberated a suffering allied country and given the Allies great bases for the strategic bombing campaign, as well as a secure route for aid to Russia. On the other hand, the historical choice did knock an Axis power out of the war and, perhaps most importantly, opened up the Med for sea traffic, adding the equivalent of HUNDREDS of ships to the Allied shipping capacity because of shortened routes.

In any case, whether or not it was a good strategy, Strike North lets players see if it was a doable task. The Allied OB will be familiar to anyone who has played an Italian campaign game. There's a lot of flexibility as to landing sites as the Norwegian coast is very long. The Allies can ensure they will get ashore. After that, it turns into a tight contest as they try to expand the beachhead against powerful resistance and win in 9 turns. Victory is based on capturing locations and sinking German ships (which make an appearance here, conducting "sorties" against Allied shipping, resolved with die rolls). The game system includes rules for all the factors one would expect: Supply, amphibious raids, weather, paradrops, air support, etc.) The game also uses an XTR-style numeric result CRT, although a different one from the 1940 game.

The third scenario is essentially the same, except the Swedes jump in on the fun. The victory conditions are the same, just a little more demanding. Between them all, the scenarios of Strike North provide a tremendous variety of possible games.


(Yes) for Wargamers: By all means

(Maybe) for Collectors: It IS a pretty ambitious game.

(No) for Eurogamers: Still and hex-and-counter affair with all sorts of special rules to account for historical realities.

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