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Posted on Feb 1, 2021 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Follow your tanks to victory with DVG’s “Tiger Leader, Second Edition”. Board Game Review

Follow your tanks to victory with DVG’s “Tiger Leader, Second Edition”. Board Game Review

Ray Garbee

Tiger Leader, Second Edition. Publisher: Dan Verssen Games (DVG). Designer: Rick Martin. Developers: Kevin Verssen and Dan Verssen. Price $89.99

Passed inspection: An updated version of the original Tiger Leader. Redesigned unit cards and counters.  Solitaire campaign narrative.

Failed basic: Second edition rules for cover don’t match the first edition tiles included in the game. Line of sight rule will cause a problem if read literally.

In 2020, Dan Verssen Games (DVG) released Tiger Leader, Second Edition.  One of the many solitaire games from DVG, Tiger Leader is set in World War Two and provides a narrative of combat from the perspective of an anonymous German military unit.

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The box art has been updated with new images

In Tiger Leader, you lead a group of Wehrmacht soldiers into battle. The game includes multiple campaigns that span from the Polish campaign, into North Africa across Europe culminating in the Allied drive into Germany. Over the course of each campaign, you’ll endeavor to defeat your opponent while keeping your own troops alive and functional.

The second edition of the game consolidates changes made in the ‘upgrade kit’ that brought the base game up to the Sherman Leader rules standard. The upgrade kit was reviewed in February of 2018.  The upgrade kit showed some love to the Tiger Leader players with updated rules and cards to match the recently released Sherman Leader, but time marches on. In 2020, DVG released a second edition of Tiger Leader that moves the game closer towards the Sherman Leader standard.

So, what’s different with the second edition? Cracking open the box, the general components look similar to what you’d get with the original game. No surprise, right – I mean, it’s still Tiger Leader. But there are definitely changes.

The game board has been upgraded to reflect the new rules for tactical movement. The overall look and feel still matches the original game. You no longer need the overlay from the upgrade kit – the new board has the current tactical movement data.

The counters for both the Germans and Allied units have been overhauled. The original edition featured a top-down view of the vehicle or unit. That’s been changed to a side view profile of the vehicle, troops or gun.

The big changes to the allied counters are the removal of the nationality flag. Instead of the flag the counters have a background color that reflects the nationality of the unit.  Along with the change to a side profile is a reorganization of the way the data displayed on the counter. The overall effect is a big improvement. Until I saw the new counters, I didn’t grasp just how cluttered and visually busy the first edition counters appear.

The new enemy unit counter on the right compared to the first edition on the left.

At the same time, the enemy formation counters have been designed to make it more obvious that a formation is at half strength. Thematically, these also have the view of the unit changed to a side profile. 

Formation counters at full strength…
…and at half strength

The other counters in the game – damage chits, stress markers and the like are visually unchanged from original game.

All the counters are large and thick with excellent die-cutting. I suppose I could have run them through the corner clipper, but there is no need to take that step with these counters. With no annoying corner tabs, these counters are ready to go as soon as they are punched out.

The heart of Tiger Leader are the leader and unit cards. The leader cards are basically unchanged from the upgrade kit. Checking a random selection of leader cards between the two editions, I found they match up in both image and values.

The same cannot be said of the unit cards. The German unit cards received a total redesign. While the core data is still the same, the presentation is markedly different. The unit cards have been shifted from portrait presentation to landscape. At the same time, all the artwork has been replaced with new art.

First edition card on the left. Second edition card on the right.

The change in orientation and the new artwork yields a card that is easier to read and appears bigger and brighter than their first edition and upgrade kit counterparts.

Infantry cards were also updated from the first edition.

The enemy formation cards have also been upgraded. These changes are more subtle, as the original graphic of the formation has been updated with an image from a historical photograph to reflect the nature of the force. (You use the same formation card, regardless of the period being played. So, the formation image with Sherman tanks is a little out of place in 1939 Poland, but it still conveys that you are facing an armored formation.

The second edition formation card on the right.

The terrain tiles included in the second edition are an element of the game that are unchanged from the first edition. Each tile is a group of four (4) hexes that fit together to form the battlefield on which a mission is fought.  We’ll revisit the terrain tiles in a bit.

The rulebook is a paperback document. It’s printed on heavyweight, glossy paper. The format follows a programmed instruction in which the layout follows the play of the game.

The rulebook has been updated to the current ‘Tank Leader’ standard. This includes revisions to the tactical movement rules (introduced with the upgrade kit and Sherman Leader) and updates to the cover rules. The big change from the first edition is the updated, more detailed tactical movement system. This was introduced with the update kit and it’s a big improvement. Depending on the campaign, enemy formations may be more likely to sit on the defensive and wait for you to dig them out. It’s a small change, but one with big impacts on the course of the campaign game.

Looking at the terrain tiles, I noted that none of them had any designation for cover as defined in the rules. That seemed odd given the updated rulebook. The rules go into detail regarding the types of cover and how cover is classified. The expansion pack I already had used these same designations. Digging a little deeper, it looks like the terrain tiles provided are exactly the same as in the first edition of the game. What this means is that while they have a graphic for a terrain type on some hexes, none of them include the cover designation of light or heavy. Fortunately, I could refer to the first edition rulebook to determine the correct cover modifier. Basically, if it has a tree in the hex, it’s light cover and if it has a building, then the hex has heavy cover.

Example of the cover symbols from the updated terrain (city) versus first edition.

The game plays much as it did with the upgrade kit. Like other ‘Leader’ games, this is a solitaire game. If you’ve never played Tiger Leader or Sherman Leader before here’s a quick recap of how it’s played.  The game has the following phases:

  • Campaign Set-up
  • Start of Week
  • Pre-Combat
  • Combat
  • Post-Combat
  • End of week

It’s a straight forward process. In the campaign set up you determine which specific campaign you will play. There are a number of historical choices ranging from Poland in 1939, France ’40, North Africa, the Eastern Front, Italy and the late war attacks on Germany from the east and west. You pair the campaign with an objective card that determines the scope of the campaign. The objective cards are a measure of how active your sector of the front line is during the campaign. For example, pairing the France ’40 campaign with the ‘Blitz’ objective card guarantees a very active sector in which you are required to vigorously engage the enemy. Next, you’ll determine the composition of the enemy forces in your sector and then build your starting force for the campaign.

The heart of the game is the weekly turn. Within each week you’ll engage in one or more missions to battle enemy formations. Which formations you choose to engage is a decision you make based on your available forces, the location of enemy forces and the victory conditions specific to your objective.

Each mission is resolved as a separate battle. Think of each mission as a scenario or a tactical problem. You’ve assigned the units and leaders you think will give you victory. But now the enemy gets a vote. 

Each battle features a random pre-combat event drawn from the card deck. Think you had the right leaders and forces assigned? Well, that event card may have thrown a wrench in your plans before a single enemy unit has been placed.  Battles will range from 5 or more turns. I say ‘or more’ as there are some variables at play that include the specific enemy formation being engaged, the number of scouts you bring to the battle and possibly that random event card you just drew from the deck.

Combat is straight forward. Your units may be able to act first, followed by the enemy formations, then by the remainder of your units. Tiger Leader is a game in which getting to shoot first is critically important. You’ll be making critical decisions as to when to seize the initiative to move and fire before the enemy brings their guns to bear on your units.

At the end of the campaign week, you’ll do some administrative and team management work as well as address the role-playing aspects of the game for your leaders – accumulating experience points, getting promoted and improving their skills, as well as mitigating the effects of battlefield stress.

You keep repeating the cycle of weeks until you either finish the campaign, or you hit an automatic defeat condition. At the end, you’ll assess your performance against the metrics laid out on the objective card.

It’s not a complicated game, but Tiger Leader still generates complex decisions. The rulebook is laid out to walk you through each step in the campaign.  Tiger Leader captures the feel of World War Two combat from the German perspective. The design stresses the detailed effects of combat on your troops, while dealing with your enemies in a more abstract manner. This effectively captures the tunnel vision of being focused on the condition of your team while only being concerned with your enemy’s ability to field a combat effective unit.

Battle is often described as an effort to get “inside” your opponents decision loop. Tiger Leader lets you do this through two mechanisms – the tactics trait and enemy tactical movement. Be sure to bring some units with the tactics trait to the engagement. These let you move out of sequence and empower a unit with an extra movement and combat phase in a game turn.  The other option – enemy tactical movement – can only be impacted by inflicting losses on the enemy formation. To paraphrase Guderian “Boot ‘em, don’t spatter ‘em”. Inflicting losses as fast as possible will help push the opposing formation into a more defensive posture. This is turn allows you to take the initiative and set the pace of the battle.  

 The role-playing / leader development rules add a dimension to the game that makes the players vested in preserving their leaders (and by extension the units they command). You want your leaders to survive and gain experience not just because of the additional skills they bring to each battle, but also the loss of combat efficiency that comes from bringing in a new greenhorn leader.

Beyond the leaders, the new counters and unit cards in the second edition add to the sense of intangible emotional bonding with your virtual battle group. The new, brighter, artwork on the unit cards is engaging and the new counters for both the friendly and enemy units are less cluttered and easier to grasp. 

A comparison of the old unit counters on the left with the new counters on the right.

While these elements create a fun, engaging experience, there were a few things that can be a bit of a challenge. When building your initial force, you’ll be tempted to squeeze all the combat power out of the formation by using all your Special Option (“SO”) points to buy units. Don’t do it!  You’ll find that event cards will pop up with unexpected SO point costs and if you can’t cover the tab, you automatically lose the campaign!

Another challenge can be that the random battalion draws may create a no-win campaign scenario. You may not believe in the no-win scenario, but when you get into the second week and find yourself being overrun by enemy formations, don’t say you weren’t warned! There’s not shame in recognizing you are not going to achieve victory in the campaign, if you see it coming, cut your losses and try again. Alternatively, embrace the narrative and see how long you can stave off defeat in the face of the superior enemy force.

Bear in mind that while your units can suppressed by enemy fire, the enemy’s units cannot. Enemy units exist in one of two states – combat effective or destroyed. There’s no middle ground in which your supporting fire unit lays down a suppressive fire that allows the assault element to close with the enemy. The concept of suppression is portrayed by the tactical movement die roll. Some results will have the enemy formation falling back to cover. But there’s no way to use firepower to suppress a group of enemy units and dash past them.

One thing that disappointed me was the rulebook. A second edition is the opportunity to fix errors found in the original edition. Given that the upgrade kit was sort of a “1.5 edition”, my expectation was that those changes would be easy to integrate into the updated rulebook. Unfortunately, there are still a few items that are causing questions. One is the line-of-sight rules. A literal interpretation of the rules would imply no unit that is in cover can either shoot from cover or be shot at by the enemy. Clearly that’s not the intent of the game.

The upgrade kit had added a combat rule that I think of as describing an overrun situation. If you closed to range 0 you gained a positive modifier to your combat dice instead of a negative firing and moving modifier. This rule appears to be missing from the second edition. It was nice touch in that it really added some motivation for closing rapidly with the enemy and conversely gave good reason for falling back in the face of overwhelming force.

As noted, the terrain tiles included with the second edition don’t match the rulebook’s definition of cover. As a veteran player – it initially confused me. But as I had the first edition as well as the upgrade kit, I was able to work through my confusion and understand how the original terrain tiles work with the game. But I can see a player who is new to the game getting confused by looking at tiles and not grasping that the cover depicted on the tiles doesn’t match the cover definition described in the rules. Since the tactical movement system is driven by moving towards or back into cover, this could be a big issue for new players. When I went looking for clarification, I found that this question had already been raised on Board Game Geek – it needs to be included an official errata. It’s a shame as the expectation is that a second edition corrects errors and improves upon the original. The terrain and line of sight rules have the potential to make game play unnecessarily frustrating for a new player.

But it’s not an insurmountable problem. Veteran board gamer John Kranz recently made the observation that we live in a great age in which the digital revolution allows fans of a game to add additional value through variants and add-ons for the game. This is certainly true for the Tank Leader series of games. Andrea Fantozzi created a nice set of quick reference data sheets (QRS) that you can download from Board Game Geek. Using these QRS will help prevent confusion regarding the terrain and line of sight rules. These are also great play aids which are an asset to all players of the series.

Tiger Leader second edition is a solitaire game. It’s designed from the ground up to support play by a single player. If you’ve played other games in the series, you already knew that, but if you are unfamiliar with the series, it’s worth restating. In this age of social distancing, solitaire games have more value for the tabletop wargamer than ever. Tiger Leader yields a solid narrative flow and engaging game play that allows squeezing in a battle in a spare hour while completing the campaign at your leisure.

Should you buy the game? Well, the Tank Leader series continues to grow. The next title – T-34 Leader focusing on the Soviet experience – was announced recently. If you are new to the Tank Leader series (Tiger Leader or Sherman Leader) and you are looking for a solitaire game that features combined arms combat, then check out the game.

Tiger Leader checks a lot of the boxes for features I enjoy in a game. I get to build a custom battle group, I can watch my leaders develop over time, and the individual engagements are short enough to make a suitable diversion for an hour or two. The rules are not complicated. The second edition offers hours of solitaire game play. The game builds an engaging narrative across each campaign as you watch your leaders and units battle their way through the war. The new cards and counters are a big step up from the first edition and the upgrade kit. These changes improve the experience of the game making Tiger Leader a great entry point into the “Tank Leader” series.

If you already own the first edition, it’s a tougher sell to justify moving to the second edition. If you have not invested in the upgrade kit, then the updated rules, the new counters and the new unit cards are indeed a big improvement to the game. If you are a hard-core Tiger Leader addict, then you should go for it. Otherwise, you can look forward to T-34 Leader!

Armchair General Score: 90%

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

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 American Civil War naval gaming. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of hobby magazines.

3 Comments

  1. I agree that I too was disappointed by the terrain tiles in the 2nd Edition not being fully compatible with Sherman Leader, nor the unit counters reading the same. I own both games and will buy T34 leader. Though I do feel that DVG could have done better.

  2. After seeing and reading about Tiger Leader and Sherman Leader, I’m developing an interest. In what order should I buy the games?
    I would assume Tiger Leader (2nd Edition) and then Sherman Leader. And forget the Tiger Leader upgrade. Any recommendations? What would you do if you had to do it all over again?

    • Thanks for your message. I am, in fact, the designer of both Tiger Leader and Sherman Leader. What I would do is get Tiger Leader 2nd Edition with the two expansion packs and the extra terrain. Then if you like Tiger Leader, get Sherman Leader which adds more realism to the series. Currently, I’m working on T34 Leader which puts the player in to controlling Russian units.

      Cheers,

      Rick Martin

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