Boardgames in Blighty reviews – Combat Infantry: WestFront 1944-45 by Columbia Games
I haven’t written a game review in quite a while but I thought that I would do one as I am a fan of Columbia Games,
Not too long ago, the awesome guys at Columbia ran a successful Kickstarter for a tactical game which is certainly a departure from the typical Columbia block war game so I was really intrigued to see how their core rules format translated from the usual operational/strategic games that they have been producing and have given me great enjoyment.
Game description from the publisher:
Combat Infantry is a fast-paced World War II tactical level game that employs wooden blocks. The game system features innovative and interactive rules for Fire Combat, Close Combat, Morale, and Leaders. The game delivers a high level of tactical realism, yet is very playable.
In the game, you command a German or American infantry battalion, composed of three infantry companies and a heavy weapons company. Future expansion sets will include British, Soviet, Italian, and Japanese battalions.
Unit types include:
- Rifle Squads
- Machine Guns
The game is not card driven; units are activated by company and platoon leaders. The game includes
- Two geomorphic maps on sturdy card stock at a scale of 100 meters per hex. Extra maps will be available for separate purchase.
- Blocks 66 Black for German forces and 66 Green for US forces
- 22 Yellow markers for smoke, barbed wire, fox holes, , destroyed bridges, etc.
- 6 scenarios
- dice 4x d10
- Rules booklet
If you are used to other games produced by Columbia Games, I can tell you that the good standard of quality, art, etc. is the same as in their other games in terms of functionality, theme and overall aesthetic. I particularly like the artwork on the maps although at times it is a little tough to see how the hill slopes work and there are some challenges of line of sight. But it does look fab. The combat units have more information than typically found in their other games but I had no real problems reading them. The units indicate unit type, strength points, morale, movement, firepower, range, Unit ID (company/platoon/battalion asset).
Unit types include – HQ (platoon/company), Company weapons (MG, Mortar, AT rockets), Battalion weapons (Engineer, Sniper, Tank, AT Gun, Bunker), Artillery and Air support.
The Maps depict terrain which is meant to typify the area of the Normandy invasion with a variety of terrain types which have effects on movement, combat, stacking, line-of-sight. The usual suspects in war games. There are even Normandy hedgerows which provide an interesting challenge.
6 generic scenarios reflecting typical company/battalion actions are provided with the game and and they vary in size, number of units and type of objectives.
I have only played this game solitaire so that is the perspective given here. Normally, it is difficult to play block games solitaire but the rules for activating company headquarters addresses his somewhat in that the HQs are randomly activated allowing for a playable fog of war feel.
I won’t go through the gameplay mechanics in detail here but the basic structure of the normal game turn is –
- Activation of HQs (to give orders to their units)
- Choose one action per unit that is in command activation range (Rally, Fire, Special Actions (such as dig fox holes), Move and HQ action
Units are reduced as they take hits from fire or Assaults. Assaults have 3 rounds to either win the attack or retreat. The usual suspects in terms of combat are there – armor is tougher to destroy, infantry is more fragile, mortars can fire on targets that are spotted, etc.
Terrain plays a significant role and provides a lot of the challenge and decision making in Combat Infantry and there is thankfully an integrated terrain effects table which captures all the effects of movement and combat. Although at first it felt rather burdensome, after a few scenarios it was easier to go through the calculations. Understanding and making best use of terrain is essential to do well and have a chance of securing your objectives. Each turn is like solving a puzzle of marshalling effective combat power and perceived points of enemy weakness and the terrain effects on movement and and combat is significant and can quickly undermine your plans. Even after careful planning, and effective use of terrain, you still have to roll your D10s well to avoid the bad luck that happens in war even when plans are executed well. C’est la Guerre, eh?
As to be expected in a tactical game, there are a number of small detailed rules to add more historicity and “theme or feel” and they generally make sense at the level they are pitched. This game is by no means meant to be a simulation and I say HURRAH! I have neither the time nor inclination to play complex war games. I will leave that to those who do.
Combat Infantry hits a sweet spot for me of just enough challenge, thinking, subtlety and decision-making, at a manageable level of complexity but at its core, this a game that is meant to be played in a shortish space of time, with a very manageable number of units. As I was familiar with the core rule set from other games, I was able to pick it up reasonably quickly. I would say that this isn’t the easiest entry point for non- war gamers but if played with someone who knows the game, can be understood and enjoyed without huge effort.
3 areas that could be different for me –
- the terrain does cause some line-of-sight issues as its not always straight forward and deciding which is the dominant terrain in a hex is arguable at times. But the map looks more realistic than games where the terrain has an unrealistic look as the terrain strongly conforms to hexsides. So its a trade-off.
- It would have been nice if the hexes were larger I think as the map feels rather crowded and it gives a sense of static, restricted combat with little room for manoeuvre.
- I personally would have preferred historical scenarios and more of them. I’ve never been a fan of generic scenarios in tactical games although I can see why its done. It would have brought the story out more which to me adds value. There are supposed to be more maps and scenarios coming so hopefully this can be done. Also, I can always create my own historical scenarios.
So overall, I really enjoy Combat Infantry and it will be interesting to see how it expands. It is relatively easy to get into, with a short and sweet rules-set. It uses a solid, tried and true core mechanics set which has been adapted to the tactical level. The fog of war rules add such a nice level of tension. It’s not buried in tons of intricate chrome that makes other games hard work. It is very playable in a short space of time and most of all, IT IS GOOD FUN!
For more information go to – Columbia Games – Combat Infantry