Saturday, 28 September 2013

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

Conflict of Heroes is a squad-level hex-and-counter wargame. It's a reputable game, and it has been on my maybe-I-should-try-it list for quite some time. Recently Meeples Cafe had it on sale at 60% off, and I jumped at the opportunity. I bought the first game in the series, Awakening the Bear, which is about Germany's invasion of USSR in World War 2. Each match of Conflict of Heroes uses a preset scenario, with predetermined maps, victory locations, troops composition, number of turns, reinforcement schedule and so on. Usually you score points by eliminating opponent units and taking control of specific victory locations. The player with a higher score at the end of the scenario wins.

During a game turn, players take turns to activate a unit and get 7 action points to spend on that unit to execute various actions, like moving, shooting and rallying. Once you are done with that unit, you flip it over to indicate that it has been activated, and then it is your opponent's turn to activate a unit. Every time you perform an action, your opponent has an opportunity to make a response. However making such a response can sometimes be costly, e.g. he has to spend special Command Action Points (CAPs), or the specific unit making the response has to be flipped to the activated side, i.e. it cannot be activated anymore for the rest of the game turn. So taking response actions is something to be considered and evaluated carefully. Sometimes it is worthwhile, for example some enemy units come into range and you have a good shot.

The actions in the game are straightforward. Usually you are either moving, or shooting. Many factors come into play, e.g. protective terrain like woods reduces your chances of being hit, buildings block line of sight and prevent shooting, and distance affect the likelihood of hitting a target. What taking a shot, whether you make a hit is determined by the attacking unit's firepower plus a die roll of two dice, compared to the defending unit's defense value. Rolling two dice means you will most likely get 7, but in the extreme cases you get 2 or 12. So shooting is a little iffy, but not entirely so. There are ways to improve your odds, like group shooting, or shooting from a height advantage. So it is up to your to maximise your odds, e.g. by positioning your units well. You have to decide whether it is worth the action points to shoot when your unit is not ideally positioned.

If your unit gets hit, you draw a hit tile from a bag and place it under your unit. The tile will dictate the effects of getting hit. There are many different effects, e.g. your unit cowers and cannot move or shoot, or your unit goes berserk and shoots more aggressively but becomes more vulnerable too. You can try to rally your unit to get rid of the hit tile. If you are successful your unit returns to normal. If the unit gets hit again while already having a hit tile, it is eliminated.

Many numbers are written on the unit tiles, which makes playing the game convenient. The top left number is the action point cost to shoot, a smaller number means you can shoot more frequently. The bottom left number is the firepower. The top right number is the action point cost to move. The bottom right numbers are the defense values when being shot at from the flank and from the front. The bottom centre number is the optimum range. You can still shoot at a distance up to twice that number, just that it will be less effective.

One important concept in the game is Command Action Points (CAPs). Unlike regular action points, you get some CAPs at the start of every game turn, and they are a shared pool that all units can draw from. You can use CAPs to make response actions to your opponent's moves. You can use them to supplement your currently activated unit's action points. You can use them to increase your die roll by two before you roll the dice. They are very handy, and you must use them wisely.

There aren't many units on the board, and not many components to fiddle with. Each player has a simple player board to track victory points, action points and CAP's.

Action cards. They can be played as an action. The scenarios determine which are in play and how they are to be used, e.g. how many each player starts with and how many to draw every round.

The Play

I played the first two scenarios with Allen. I played the Germans, who are on the offense, while Allen played the Soviet, on defense.

In the first scenario, I had to capture a victory location at a road junction in the middle of the board. It was open space, i.e. vulnerable to being shot at. There were some woods near the junction, which provided some cover for soldiers shooting at whoever was loitering around at the junction. I advanced cautiously towards the junction where Allen's Soviets were waiting. Unfortunately for me, as soon as the shooting started, one of my machine gun units got a critical hit and was killed instantly. That was painful. German machine gun units have high firepower and also good range. I did not dare to get my other units rush up to the junction, because they would be exposed to fire. I stationed my units in the woods across the road from the Soviets, and we exchanged fire. This was too slow, and every game turn that I did not capture the victory location, Allen earned one VP for it. I had to rush him. I sent one unit running towards one of his units, and they engaged in close combat. It was risky, because in close combat both sides are more vulnerable. It the end, I was too late. I was hoping to kill more of Allen's units before capturing the victory location in a safer manner, but I never managed to achieve better killing odds. I lost quite a few units myself. One victory for the Soviets.

This is the first scenario. The victory location is initially under Soviet control. The units with a light brown background are the Soviets. The units with a light green background are the Germans.

One of my units rushed one of Allen's units, and engaged in close combat. The horizontal pink bar means that the unit has been activated in the current game turn.

The second scenario was played on a larger map. This time the victory location defended by the Soviets was a stone house in a small village. In the direction where the Germans approached, there was just open ground, so I hesitated to send my units charging straight ahead. There were some scattered woods around the village, so I would probably have to approach from the sides to encircle the village. As soon as I started approaching, quite a few of my units were hit. One of Allen's lone units took position in the woods to my right and took pot shots at my units. I waited till he finished his action points. Then I sent one of my units to run up to it to shoot it at point blank range. It was not supported by nearby units and would be vulnerable. However, the moment that I prepared to open fire, I found out I was being ambushed. This scenario has two initially hidden Soviet units, and Allen's apparently lonely and isolated unit was actually bait! Aaarrgghh how stupid can I be! My greedy unit, hoping to get an easy shot, had walked right up to the hex next to the ambushing unit, and was summarily shot at. Point blank range indeed. My unit beat a hasty retreat to some bushes nearby.

It was not a good start at all for me. With a few units having taken hits, I decided to rally them before I advanced. Eventually I did manage to kill a few scattered Soviet units near my more concentrated group of soldiers, but I found that I was too slow. I had spent too much time and had not been advancing to the victory location quickly enough. Eventually we didn't even need to play the last round. I would need to kill all Allen's units to be able to catch up with him in victory points, and that was basically impossible. So I conceded defeat. The Bear was well awake!

The two Soviet units on the top left are Allen's lure unit and ambush unit.

This was already mid way through the scenario and I was nowhere near capturing the victory point at the centre of the map, where Allen's machine gun unit was stationed.

The Thoughts

My biggest takeaway from these two sessions: This is a very different game! Naturally Conflict of Heroes would be nothing like the VP-scoring Eurogames that I often play, but even compared to dudes-on-a-map games and other wargames it feels very different. It's on a much more personal level, and it's much more visceral. I felt I was cowering behind trees and not pushing counters on a map. I winced whenever my units got shot at. Everything feels very physical and very real. I picture myself on the scene, and the game works like how I imagine it would be during a real firefight. Woods provide cover, close range shooting is more effective, buildings block line of sight, don't get shot from behind, don't stand in the centre of an open field you idiot! And so on. It's common sense. So it feels very real. There are quite many small rules and numbers to remember, but because the rules are intuitive, at least you will remember the various considerations and factors, and thus remember that you have to look up those numbers. I think this is one of the strengths of the game. Despite the complexity, it feels intuitive, and gameplay is smooth.

One thing I learned is I am a hopeless captain. I was clueless about strategy and didn't know what works and what doesn't. Well, I guess now I know a little about what doesn't work. I was too wimpy. I had no idea how to make the best use of my squads. I wonder whether I should read up on military tactics, because I suspect they will be useful in this game.

Conflict of Heroes is a highly praised game. I can see the genius in the design. I'm not sure whether I like it yet though, in the same way that a primary school pupil doesn't know whether he likes quantum mechanics. Also I think liking or disliking the game has a lot to do with whether you like this type of game. It is not just about how well-designed the game is.

Learning military tactics is a new challenge for me. I hope to play more, and I'm sure I will improve - because there is a lot of space for improvement.


Uwe Eickert said...

Wow, great write up. I see that you have the 1st Edition of the game. I highly recommend that you download the 2nd Edition rules, since we made a VERY important change in the rules on page two. Now both players activate units at the same time.
The change is only 2 paragraphs (and then we cut out 1/2 page), the game is much more streamlined, and easier to play.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thank you Uwe. Yes, it's the first edition. I didn't realise there was a change in rules. I will check out the 2nd edition rules.

Sergio Ponce de León said...

Hiew Hello !. I've been reading your blog with great interest, especially what you have written about the game "Conflict of Heroes". I recently bought the game and want to play but I struggled to find opponents. By the way you mention that you want to learn about military tactics to apply to CoH. I will gladly explain about military tactics ( i know a little) thats I think would apply well to this game.



Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Sergio, it has been quite a while since I last played Conflict of Heroes. By now I will need to relearn the rules all over again. I'm not sure yet when I will be able to bring this back to the table. Lately I have been playing lighter games.

Hope you'll soon be able to find an opponent to play against!

Happy Gaming!