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Posted on Aug 1, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“Ask me for anything but time.” GMT’s ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ is a hit that leaves you wanting more. Board Game Review.

“Ask me for anything but time.” GMT’s ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ is a hit that leaves you wanting more. Board Game Review.

Ray Garbee

‘The Last Hundred Yards’. Publisher: GMT Games. Game Designer: Mike Denison. Price $ 59.00

Passed inspection: Colorful counters depicting the troops of both combatants, map board graphics that are evocative of the European countryside, core rules that cover the major elements of WWII ground combat. Good mix of scenarios. Captures the feel of company – platoon ground combat in the European Theater.

Failed basic:  Focused solely on US and German forces in ’44-45. Vehicle assortment only covers the basics of the armored and support units found on both sides.

There are few more iconic wargaming experiences than the Western Front in 1944. The image of heroic GI’s going toe to toe with the grim Wehrmacht troops defending the Reich has been ingrained into popular culture through photographs, books, movies and, of course, games.

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It’s rare when a game triggers both feelings of nostalgia and an appreciation of innovative design. Mike Denison has nailed both of those with ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ from GMT Games. Why nostalgia? This game transported me back to memories of the first time I played Avalon Hill’s board game ‘Squad Leader’. The named leaders, the support weapons and the tanks and other armored vehicles. It was like spilling an episode of ‘Combat’ onto the tabletop. That same excitement coursed through me again as I lifted the first counter sheet from the box and the gorgeous game pieces rained down on the table.

Great, you think – but if I was really juiced to play Squad Leader, why not just go play Squad Leader?  Did I mention innovative? Now I like Squad Leader – I played enough of it over the years and I remember that day when we broke the plastic wrap on GI: Anvil of Victory. But Squad Leader was a product of its time – a clean, quantitative design that eventually got bogged down in modeling process over outcomes. Over the years I drifted away from Squad Leader and ASL, but it’s always been a game that sparks some of the best gaming memories of my life. 

With ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ it feels like Mike Denison took a deep appreciation of small unit combat in WWII and created a rules engine that focuses less on process and more on the key metrics of small unit leadership – mission, the enemy and your own casualties. ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ has streamlined mechanics that share a common process for small arms, artillery and anti-tank fire. But don’t take streamlined to mean simple. The interplay of time, casualties and a dynamic cycle of actions and reactions create a decision-rich gaming experience.  In ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ – you’ll be engaged throughout the game turn, regardless of whether or not you hold the initiative.

All this means that if you play the same scenario twice, you are very likely to get very different games. The varied outcomes defy the implementation of rote ‘gambits’ that suck the excitement out the game while you execute a pre-determined ‘optimal’ plan with little risk.

I could go on about the game (and l will in a little bit!), but let’s crack open the box and talk about what you get. Inside the standard GMT box, you’ll find the following components: a rulebook, a playbook, two (2) sets of player aid and combat charts, 2 sheets of 9/16″ counters, 2 sheets of 3/4″ counters, 4 Mission Cards, 1 game turn track and four (4) 10-sided dice

The rulebook is what you’d expect from GMT. A solid well laid out document firmly in the camp of numerically formatted rules. Between the table of contents and the index, it’s a snap to quickly find the section of rules you need and get the answer you want. It ranks up there with Skies Above the Reich for clarity and ease of use.

Reinforcing the rulebook is the playbook. This document provides detailed examples of the rules for most situation and includes an extended example of play you can reference to ensure you are ‘getting it right’.

Next up are the counters. As noted, these come in two sizes – 9/16” for the primary combat units and 3/4” for the variety of status markers. The counters for the combat units are lovely. A light green color for the US troops and grey for the soldaten of the Reich is about as classic a choice as you could make. Eschewing traditional graphics for a tactical game, the vehicle counters depict a side profile of the AFV instead of using an overhead view that matches the top down view of the map. Towed guns have a similar depiction showing a profile of the weapon be it a 57mm AT gun or the fearsome German ‘88’. It’s not a traditional approach, but it is an attractive one.

The infantry units break down into four classes of counter – infantry squads, fire teams (aka ‘half squads’), support weapons such as machine guns and bazooka/panzerschreck and platoon leaders. All leaders are named and have a range of abilities.

The relevant data for each counter is arrayed around the perimeter and is color coded for ease of use. (This color coding carries over into the associated status markers and the rules). Stats include small arms, anti-armor, assault and a defense rating (which varies with unit type). It may be a function of age, but I’m geeking out on these big 9/16” counters. Hey game companies – think about making these bigger counters the norm as they are awesome! Yeah, yeah – I get it, bigger counters mean fewer counters per sheet, and bigger maps both of which means a higher price for the game. But can’t you just let me live this dream for a few minutes? It’s a nice change from the ‘tiny’ ½” counters I’ve had in other games.

The counter mix covers the basics of what you’d find on the Second World War battlefield. Infantry, machine guns and anti-tank teams along with the staple vehicles that you would find in support these troops – Panzer IVH, Panthers and Stug III, along with a handful of Tigers and a Stug 105. The US get three platoons of Sherman tanks, split between the 75mm and 76mm gun versions. There are a few carriers (Sdkfz 251 or M3 halftracks). Conspicuously absent are light tanks, and host of self-propelled guns and armored cars for either side. I’d have like to have seen some of the recon/cavalry vehicles to allow a clash of scouting units, but you won’t find those in ‘The Last Hundred Yards’.

Next up are the maps or more formally, the geo-morphic game boards. These are double-sided, unmounted game boards. The six cardboard game boards give you a total of 12 different landscapes. Liz Stephanoff deserves a shout out for her outstanding execution of Mike’s vision. If they gave an award for ‘best representation of a game board’, Liz would get my vote from the games I’ve seen this year. The game boards are works of art. The boards depict all the information you need – terrain types, locations and elevations, but wrapped up in an attractive package capturing the look and feel of the western European landscape that the US and Germans fought over in the summer and fall of 1944.  While colorful, the terrain is depicted in a manner that allows clear identification of the various landforms, contours and built structures across the landscape.

I’ll trot out my standard diatribe about double sided boards – I’m not a fan. I find that even with the best care possible, the boards will suffer wear on the side not in use. Given the quantity of boards that are included, I fully understand the compromise – 12 single sided games boards are a lot and having them as mounted game boards would have required a *very* deep box and pushed the cost of the game through the roof. But c’mon – mounted boards were doable for GMT’s ‘Skies Above the Reich’! Here’s hoping GMT adds a P500 to produce mounted game boards for those of us that want them.

Lastly are the various charts and play aids. It can seem overwhelming at first, but both of these are laid out to walk you through the various actions and reactions within the game turn. The charts are clearly presented with the modifiers for the key processes of ranged fire and assault.  You’ll be referring to these a lot your first few games, but after that much of this information will be committed to memory.

So that’s what’s inside the box. But what kind of experience has Mike Denison crafted from these ingredients? I think it’s one heck of a spicy meatball. Here’s why – The Last Hundred Yards is a game that keeps you engaged across the full game turn with decision making for both players and dynamic play that keeps replay value high.  The heart of the game is the action / reaction process. Each turn the initiative player will start by selection a platoon and taking actions with its component squads and sections and attachments.

Those actions can include moving, declaring intent to fire, conducting regroup actions to recover from disruption. Here’s where it gets fun – once all the desired actions are completed, the active player calls for reactions from the enemy. These are usually defensive fire, but can included limited movement and calls for mortar fire. Once the reactions are declared, the initiative player can react to those reactions with other units – both from the active platoon as well as other eligible units.

When no more reactions are performed, the activation cycle for that platoon is complete. The initiative player would then continue activating platoons and perform this action/reaction cycle until all platoons have been activated and all enemy units have had an opportunity to declare a reaction. 

Once all the movement is done and the firing actions have been declared, both players simultaneously resolve all the previously declared firing. This is another of those innovative items in that you won’t know the result of any one specific fire action before declaring all your other fires. You have to plan ahead and allocate your fire. Too much firepower in one place may be a waste. Then again, a dug in defender may defy all attempts to silence them with weapons fire. (Stupid dice, I hate you. LOL)

Fire resolution is done by declaring your fire, determining all the die roll modifiers and then placing a final die roll modifier counter on the target. During the fire phase you roll a die, add/subtract the final modifier and compare it to the best defense in the target hex. Roll higher than the target’s defense value and you’ll cause a disruption to that unit as well as force the other counters in the hex to check as well. Hit them hard enough, often enough and you’ll cause casualties. This demonstrates the importance of not being seen.

It also drives home the importance of not bunching up and huddling around the platoon commander. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way when a bunched-up platoon (all stacked in a single hex) took mortar and machine gun fire that rapidly pushed the German losses far above their threshold for losing the scenario.

After all those actions and reactions, you’ll do some administrative tasks, the most important of which – and again to me an innovative feature – is to determine how much time has passed. This dynamic clock-based time structure adds a welcome level of uncertainty to when the game shall end. It reflects the real-world concern of commanders who need to achieve objectives in a certain time frame and models the psychological dimension of time dilation that you often hear about in after-action reports.

To paraphrase Frank Chadwick in the designer’s notes of Command Decision – games that try to define a game turn with a discrete time length are a min-maxers dream. They become models of ‘if a tank can cover 500 yards in two minutes, then that tank can cover 2500 yards in 10 minutes, every 10 minutes.

While soldiers may do a lot in any given time period, friction and entropy rapidly rear their heads to ensure that then troops won’t maintain that pace over longer time frames. ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ captures this brilliantly – it reminiscent of the Telescoping Time Concept from Bowden and Getz’s ‘Empire III’, yet it’s so much more than that. In ‘The Last Hundred Yards’, you are constantly watching the clock. Elapsed time has a direct bearing on both the game length and victory levels. You may have a great turn, only to find that too many precious minutes have slipped through your grasp. I found the whole mechanic inciteful in how it captures the subjective effects of time dilation and battlefield friction, things over which you have little to no control.

The other innovative mechanism is how casualties are an integral part of determining the end of the game. You may be advancing rapidly on the objective, but suffer too many casualties in relation to your opponent and the battle will rapidly end. ‘Insufficient forces to achieve mission objectives’ is a real concern and a great way of inserting the impact of your unit’s performance on the larger operation that is being conducted. A favorite tactic of gamers – fighting to the last man – is not really an option. It may occasionally happen if you are also making your opponent take loses in the process of a hard-fought battle. It’s one of those genius ideas that help make this an awesome game.

‘The Last Hundred Yards’ really captures the feel of the theme. There’s rarely enough time to achieve the mission, so you constantly feel like you are on the clock. You rarely feel like you have enough troops to carry out the mission, so losing every fire team hurts. You have to focus on your troops and try to keep your leaders where you need them to regroup units that get disrupted and call fire when required. The platoon leaders’ job is never done.  You’ll want to concentrate them for command and control, while needing the spread them out to avoid becoming a fire magnet.

Together these metrics help put you in the role of the platoon leader or company commander. You need to stay on mission, you need to neutralize the enemy and you need to do it all while keeping casualties at a level that keeps your command effective.

The game rewards using cover and concealment. ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ rewards the defender using his pickaxes and shovels to dig in, without requiring burdensome rules. Given the typical duration of most scenarios, digging in is something you do before the battle, not once the battle is joined. It also rewards pulling back out of sight to regroup and prepare for the inevitable follow up attack.

Sounds pretty good so far, right? But there are few things which caused a little head scratching and the inevitable questions that start with “Why doesn’t…”. Let’s get some of those out of the way now.

First up, there’s only one platoon leader counter per platoon. You might feel like you are missing an NCO or two. However, Mike Denison included in the designers’ notes a breakdown of what the platoon leader counter represents. It is “…the officer, usually a second lieutenant, a platoon sergeant, a radioman (RTO) and a couple of runners….” Think of the counter as representing the center of command activity and the synergy of the officer-NCO team.

The game’s ‘artillery’ starts and ends with access to the company and battalion mortar assets. Now let’s be positive here – Mike’s done a great job of modeling the importance, availability and performance of mortars to an infantry platoon leader.

The mortars depicted in the game are either the 60mm or 80-1mm caliber available at the company level (or battalion in the case of the US 81mm mortar). But by 1944 the German’s had recognized the devastating power of the 120mm mortar and integrated it into both the panzer grenadier battalions and the infantry battalion TO&E. Those heavy battalion mortars seem to be outside the scope of this game.

Beyond that, the game does not feature any off-board artillery – no howitzers, guns or nebelwerfers (multiple rocket launchers). It’s certainly out there, but it’s operating at a scale that outside the scope of the tactical skirmishes depicted in ‘The Last Hundred Yards’. The game also does not feature any rules for air support. That’s not unrealistic for the period given the poor communication between aircraft and ground. If the series continues, I’d expect to see rules for the use of both artillery and maybe aircraft to appear, but neither of these will impact your enjoyment of this game right now.

A lot of folks suffer from a lack of opponents for face to face games. Many of us attempt to compensate for this and play our games solo. An important feature for this population of gamer is how well a game supports solitaire play. ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ merits a ‘sorta/kinda’ rating for solitaire play. What’s that mean? Out of the gate, there is no solitaire support for the game. No ‘bots, flow charts or other form of an AI to automate the performance of one side. Lacking that, you are forced to play both sides, making all the attendant decisions. Not the end of the world and a common compromise we make with a lot of board games. That’s the big downside.

On the plus side, the initiative system introduces a degree of uncertainty while at the same time weighting the initiative in favor of the attacker. This is a good thing as it allows you – the solitaire player – to experience an element of surprise in the narrative of the game. Balancing that sense of surprise is the action – reaction mechanism. For solo play this may be a bit of a disappointment as you can’t out-think yourself into getting you (as the initiative player) to get yourself (as the reacting player) to commit to a reaction so you can go back and react with another initiative unit acting in reaction to the reaction.

Yea, you read that right. That’s the degree of complexity you have to deal with for solo play. It’s a real Princess Bride ‘where’s the poison’ decision loop moment. But the combination of the initiative system and the activation / and reaction sequences will still yield an exciting game. The way that the game decouples combat resolution until after all the actions and reactions have been declared adds a degree of uncertainty to the solo experience.

The complex web of action – reaction – counter actions can be done with the player hot seating the game (I certainly played several of the smaller scenarios that way) but the decision-making – and line of sight rules – really favor doing this as a two-player game.

What’s the verdict – should you buy this game?  My recommendation: Heck YES! This is a fun game. When I was tasked with the review, my first thought was ‘please, not another World War Two game…”, but I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with the ‘The Last Hundred Yards’. The game does a great job of capturing the company/platoon level of combat while not getting bogged down in a dense symbolist tome of a bazillion special rules and use cases.

‘The Last Hundred Yards’ has great potential for future expansions. My biggest disappointment was the lack of an Eastern Front component. Bring on the Soviets, the British, the French, the Poles, the Finns, the Japanese and US Marines, the Brazilians and all the rest. Let’s see more maps for specific battlefield theatres. There’s so much potential to unlock that the series could be produced for years to come.  

Playing the game reminded me of the classic skirmish level action films such as The Devil’s Brigade, The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far or Saving Private Ryan. The Last Hundred Yards immerses you in the small-scale skirmish actions. It’s an up-close gritty experience where you have to use all your resources to cross those Last Hundred Yards.

Between the fun I had playing the game and the way it’s re-ignited my interest in this level of gaming, ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ ranks as one of the best games I’ve played in 2019.

To paraphrase Napoleon, you can have anything but time, so get to your local game store and pick up your copy of ‘The Last Hundred Yards’ today. You’ll enjoy your time around the table playing this great game.

Armchair General Score: 97%

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  3

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.

box cover
box contents
map
missions
sample counters
German assault

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