I just received a copy of Lock 'N Load's NATIONS AT WAR: WHITE STAR RISING
game and thought I'd share a few impressions of it with you.
This ain't your granddad's PANZER LEADER
game by a long stretch, despite superficial similarities. While it's got four heavy geomorphic mapboards (one of which has a beach--see above picture!) and contains German, SS, British, and American forces simulated at the platoon level, that's where the general comparison between this and PANZER LEADER
ends. Lock 'N Load is providing some of the clearest, most functional, and also most aesthetic graphics in the business. The box is nice, thick, and sturdy. Mind you, the glossiness of the counters are my biggest beef (and, being an old guy, reading some of the unit names on the SS counters is admittedly hard), but these are purely personal preferences and in no way reflects badly on the game. Pieces are platoons for the most part with step reduction. Time scale is 5 to 15 minutes and each hex is 150 meters across. The system is based on the well-received WORLD AT WAR
tactical series on "hypothetical WW III combat" and the rules are quite clear and easy to understand (as well as being thankfully short, even with the advanced/optional rules!). Both the company website and the entry for this game on Board Game Geek
do a great job of giving you the essentials behind the game, so I won't repeat anything you can find there.
The key question is, with a number of good platoon-level games already in existence, why get this one?
I won't talk about the out of print games such as that venerable PANZER LEADER
(AH 1974), controversial PANZER BATTLES
(SPI, 1979), PANZER '44
(SPI, 1975), or WESTERN FRONT TANK LEADER
(West End, 1987). Most of them were great in their day and yes, they still have their adherents (Tom Cundiff is still making mounted counters for PANZER LEADER variants
, after all!) But there are two other platoon-level WWII ground tactical games/systems generally available that can compare with this one. Which suits you best depends on what you are looking for.
The first comparable game system/series is the steadfast PanzerGrenadier games by Avalanche Press. There's a lot of games and hundreds of scenarios in this series. The rules are in their Third Edition. No single game quite compares in scope and subject to WHITE STAR RISING
; BEYOND NORMANDY
covers the Commonwealth in the Normandy campaign, the AIRBORNE
introductory game covers U.S. paratroopers, the BLACK SS
supplement has SS pieces and scenarios for the Western Front, and the more U.S. actions are covered in the games BATTLE OF THE BULGE
and BATTLE OF THE BULGE II: ELSENBORN RIDGE
. First thing to say is that the PanzerGrenadier system is more involved and more detailed; plus there's been more of an emphasis within the series to play on mapsheets that are drawn from the actual terrain fought over.
PanzerGrenadier uses initiative rolls and leaders as part of its unit activation system, as opposed to the NATIONS AT WAR
use of formations and chit pulls. Tomatoe, Tomahto--both games have a high level of interactivity and tension using these mechanics. For others, having leader variety from scenario to scenario and the ability to do "role playing game"-style campaign games using Avalanche's Campaigns and Commanders rules
are the key draws to PanzerGrenadier.
Commonwealth units deploying in BEYOND NORMANDY
NATIONS AT WAR/WHITE STAR RISING is easier to get into and would be my preference to teach newbies to platoon-level tactical games. Scenarios are much shorter than most of the ones in the PanzerGrenadier series and counter density is typically a bit less. Action is fast and furious--you can get in several scenarios in a day with little trouble. The PanzerGrenadier scenarios have a reputation for adhering to historical victory conditions at the cost of play balance. It's too early to tell how WHITE STAR RISING fares in that department, but I suspect the included 16 scenarios probably aren't worse in this regard and are likely a good bit better. While the PanzerGrenadier system has more depth and historical color to it for some of the games in the series, this comes at a cost in playing time. Which is most important to you will drive your decision on which game series you prefer. I like both of them; my preference is conditioned by time available to play and my opponent.
A German armored foray against British defenders in a village in PANZERBLITZ: HILL OF DEATH
The system is based on the old PANZERBLITZ/PANZER LEADER
games but has been heavily updated--to include its own unique unit "Ops" chit activation system to achieve expected interactivity and tension. The original game deals with German versus British fighting in the Hill 112 area outside Caen, while the Carentan supplement covers the Germans versus the Americans in that area. It's a fine system and quite solid (once you include the errata
), but for some reason it's not developed a strong following. The Carentan supplement did win a CSR for best game expansion. As of this writing it's unlikely MMP will continue with more material for this system (correction--as of 1 December, MMP is considering another game updating PANZER LEADER
and similar in scope of coverage). Those of us who have strong nostalgia for our old PANZER LEADER
games might give this a try, but the grognards appear to love or hate it--and the latter go back to PANZER LEADER
with their house rules and variants. This is a game that is a little harder to get into than WHITE STAR RISING
but easier than the PanzerGrenadier series. The scenarios also are on the "short and sweet" side and relatively quick playing, though I would argue not as fast to get through as most of those in the Lock 'N Load title.
All these games do a fine enough job simulating their subject at the tactical level and will appeal to those interested in the subject--I suspect the Lock 'N Load system will be favored by those who have a competitive streak and the Panzergrenadier series by the historian gamer crowd who aren't otherwise drawn to other squad-level tactical simulations and games (and there are many out there). The biggest draw of WHITE STAR RISING is that it fulfills the Mark Walker mantra of "more game, less guff" and is perfect for getting new blood into platoon level WWII tactical gaming. For those of us old hands, it's also a nice change of pace from the more involved simulations we've been playing.
In my view, the real competition to NATIONS AT WAR series is not any of the platoon level games, but a squad-level series, CONFLICT OF HEROES. The physical production is even better and the system easy to break into, best for attracting new players. New players also have an easier time envisioning tactical actions at that scale, compared to platoon level games. I'm hopeful the wargame market will have room for both of these excellent tactical WWII game systems.
What's your impression of how these games compare, or of WHITE STAR RISING and the NATIONS AT WAR system?