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Posted on Mar 20, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Westbound and Down: The Warsaw Pact drives into Southern Germany. High Flying Dice Games’ Land of Confusion 3: The Battle of Hof Gap. Board Game Review.

Westbound and Down: The Warsaw Pact drives into Southern Germany. High Flying Dice Games’ Land of Confusion 3: The Battle of Hof Gap. Board Game Review.

By Ray Garbee

Land of Confusion 3: The Battle of Hof Gap. Publisher: High Flying Dice Games.  Designer: Paul Rohrbaugh. Price $14.95-$19.95

 

Passed inspection: Fast-playing game, good introduction to hex and counter gaming while still offering challenging game play to the grognard.

Failed basic: Colors on counters can be hard to read without direct light, needs examples of play

 

If you look at war games, 1985 seems to be the year voted mostly likely to have started World War III. An increasing number of games set during this time frame are seeing print. Some are a nostalgic look back at vintage games of the war that never was. Almost all are variations of the same theme – the Soviets are westbound and down with the pedal to the metal. The goal – The Rhine river. Some games tackle the strategic level operation from the Baltic to the Adriatic Sea. Other drill down to focus on the action across the regional battlefields across the Inter-German Border.

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Paul Rohrbaugh has taken the latter approach under the banner of the ‘Land of Confusion’ series of games. This series focuses on the primary battlefields in West Germany. Early games covered the fight in central Germany – the Fulda Gap region and in the north, the battle of Luneburg Heath where the attacks on Hannover and Hamburg could be expected. The third installment – Battle of Hof Gap covers the Warsaw Pact attack into Bavaria with the goal of capturing the key city of Nuremberg. Advancing out of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, the forces of two Warsaw Pact armies have a long way to go and a short time to get there. But first they’ve got to deal with the elements of two NATO army corps that stand in their way.

The game places the players in the role of army commanders. The NATO player has elements of two corps – the US 7th Corps and the Federal Republic of Germany’s 2nd Corp. The Warsaw Pact player has 8th Guards Army and the 1st Czechoslovakian Army. This translates to the tabletop in a fairly typical ‘two down’ model in which the players command armies and know the location of their brigades/regiments (represented by the game counters).

The game arrived from High Flying Dice Games in a plastic bag inside a cardboard postal mailer; standard packaging that matches that of my other HFDG products. Inside the bag were two 11” x 17”  map sheets, 200 double-sided playing counters for both sides and a slim booklet containing the rules of play.

The map sheets combine to form a map board that depicts southeastern West Germany as well as the western edges of East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The board depicts the major terrain features of rough ground, wooded areas, numerous rivers and the autobahn road network. A hex grid has been superimposed over this depiction of the ground to help standardize movement and measure weapons ranges for artillery.

The counters for the game break down into NATO, Warsaw Pact and assorted informational markers using during play. The counters are laid out in a fairly conventional format showing the unit id, a vehicle graphic of a tank, APC or troop symbol, the national flag of the unit and three numbers defining attack, defense and movement. Most counters represent a regimental/brigade sized unit of a division, though there are a handful of battalion sized units representing the squadrons of the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment as well as the various airborne forces of each side. The counters carry the id of their parent formation as well as their own identifiers.

The game system takes an interesting approach to how it represents rotary wing aviation in that it’s treated as basically another form of airstrike. It’s really clean in that it represents the ability of helicopters to roam far and wide across the battlefield without getting bogged down in a bunch of special movement rules for the flying tanks. To reinforce this design decision, several of the airstrike counters depict helicopter silhouettes to remind you that airstrikes are not just the fast movers from the Air Force.

The rules come in at a slim 10 pages, and that’s before we discount the random events table, title page and game variants for using either the 4th Canadian Brigade or the 137th Desant Regiment. The rules are easy to digest and laid out in a logical fashion.

Set up is very flexible. Almost too flexible. As noted, most units represent brigades or regiments.  As the NATO player you face the historical decision of where and what to defend. Defending everywhere and being strong nowhere is a real risk. The challenge is you have multiple missions to achieve and finite forces. You need to protect the northeast quadrant of the map from WarPac units dashing for the heart of Germany while covering the approaches from Czechoslovakia and units out of East Germany pushing through Hof Gap or taking the long way from southern East Germany.

The Warsaw Pact player has it slightly easier as they set up second and have the benefit of seeing the NATO deployment. Terrain somewhat drives your deployment as you can only cram so many units into the natural approaches the geography provides.

Once set up is complete, the game kicks off with the Warsaw Pact player launching their initial offensive. The WarPac player has a lot of flexibility here as they can choose from a number of actions to either move units or launch artillery and airstrikes against NATO units. Each action either moves a counter, lets a counter attack or initiates an artillery or airstrike from the available pool of such assets. Following this initial attack, the game rolls into its standard game turn cycle.

So what’s a game turn look like? Well a turn represents approximately 8 hours. Each day consists of 3 turns: a morning, an afternoon and a night turn. A game turn consists of a short admin phase where both players determine the available artillery and air assets for the game, followed by a number of rounds where players take actions.

You’ll need a deck of playing cards which you’ll cull down into two, 19 card decks for the players. Uses a short deck of playing cards 2-10 plus a joker. Or you can purchase a dedicated deck for the game from High Flying Dice Games. But a good deck of playing cards will work fine.

During each round, each player flips over the top card in their deck. For each card draw round the players flip the top card in the deck. Comparing the two cards, the high card wins the initiative. It’s a mechanic right from the classic card game of ‘war’. Depending on if the winning card was odd or even, the winning player will then conduct a number of actions.

Actions are used to perform a variety of activities. An action may be used to conduct an activity with a single unit such as move, assault, rally or entrench. Actions can also be used to call artillery fire or airstrikes on enemy units. Related to the artillery strikes are the ability of NATO to place artillery emplaced minefields with the WARPAC player may use either artillery or airstrikes to deliver a chemical weapons attack. At the upper end of the scale, either player may resort to tactical nuclear weapons.

The game turn continues with the players taking actions as dictated by the card draw. This is actually a nice mechanic that captures the friction of war with a minimum of fuss. The uncertainty of knowing who will next take an action really drives home the fact that while you have to plan and execute, no plan will survive contact with the enemy. You’ll have to be nimble and focused to stay on mission while reacting to your opponent.

In each player’s deck is a Joker. When the first Joker comes up in a turn, you’ll check for a random event. When the other Joker appears, the game turn ends. There’s a special rule that can allow the game to continue to the end if the player that wishes to keep playing gives his opponent a victory point.

When you hit the limit either in the second Joker or the last cards, you move to the next game turn, determine your air and artillery support, shuffle your decks of cards and start again.  You do this until either you achieve an automatic victory (breaking your opponents morale) or you’ve played the last turn. If you reached the last turn, you have to do some math and count victory points to determine the winner.

Units assault individually. For each assault, you’ll take the units attack factor, roll a d6, add/subtract some modifiers and compare it to the defenders modified defense factor. Depending on the result, your results will range from you were repulsed and forced to regroup through the popular ‘no effect’ to inflicting a hit on the defender. The result of that hit will depend on the status of the defending unit, its current strength, the terrain it occupies and the proximity of other attacking units. To be most effective, you want to flank the defender into an encirclement, then pin a defender with artillery, hit them with airstrikes to weaken the unit and lastly actually assault the defender. Fail to do all of these and you can still win assaults, but you’ll generally just force the defender to fall back and break contact.

You can enhance these tactics by resorting to either minefields or gas or the occasional tactical nuke. I mean, you can really blow a hole in your opponents’ line with a couple of nukes, but there is a good chance you’ll trigger World War III in the process, and that is something you don’t want to do. You can think about it…but don’t do it! As you can imagine, World War III happening ends the game and you both lose.

Battle of Hof Gap is a straight forward game. It was refreshing to have a game that does not need a complex rulebook or a lot of additional charts and tables. The mechanics of the game capture the feel of the period. The combat brigades break down on familiar lines. Tank units mostly excel at attacking, while infantry excels at defending. The Armored Cavalry is a hybrid as the squadrons are better at defending while still packing a punch.

The artillery and airstrike system give good results without getting bogged down in moving and positioning divisional, corps and army artillery units or having a separate system for managing each side’s respective air forces.  The minefield rules are clever. A few well-placed minefields can slow down the Soviet advance for a few actions and buy NATO more time.

Gas attacks seem like they are the easy way to put the NATO forces on the back foot. Nicely balanced with the potential VP lose. Though they play a lot like the minefield rules, gas attack also carries the risk of civilian casualties and a victory point award to the NATO player for the propaganda value of the attack.

 

But chemical weapons are not the only weapon of mass destruction in the game. Let’s talk about tactical nuclear weapons. The rules for the nuclear weapons are clear and quick. You can really put the hurt on your opponent with a well-placed nuke. But the decision to use nuclear weapons is a tough one. If you think you are winning with your conventional forces, there’s a degree of restraint as you don’t want to use a nuke and then lose. But if think your and losing and unlikely to win, there’s not much incentive to refrain from nuking your opponent to the point where you do cause World War III. This does a great job of capturing the danger posed by tactical nukes as well as the objections that drove the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to be adopted in the 1980’s. It also can be used to drive the historically defined policy by NATO. By equating chemical weapons with nuclear weapons, the game’s rules ultimately serve as a check on the use of NBC by the Soviets and tactical nuclear weapons by NATO.

Short of breaking out the NBC weapons, the easy way to beat up on units seems to be the 1-2 punch of artillery followed by air strikes. Pin the enemy, hammer them with airstrikes and THEN send the ground troops in to the attack. If you leave an enemy a retreat path, it’s going to be a long game as it’s tough to eliminate units from the game if they can retreat.

 

At game start I thought ‘man that’s a lot of frontage’, for both sides. But playing the game, you see how NATO can wage a fighting withdrawal designed to reduce the Soviets enough that they can’t seize Nuremberg.  At the same time, you get the feel of how the Soviets need to create gaps in the line and exploit the isolated the NATO units. I found it gave a pretty good feel for the period.

 

At first, I was missing the aviation battalion/brigades for both sides, but I’m actually digging the way they are rolled into the air rules. It makes them flexible enough to ‘move’ where you need them to strike without special movement rules.

 

Tough game for the Soviet player.  They really have to push hard to get close to attacking Nuremburg. You’ll be doing a lot of forced marches just to get units into action. The Czechs have a long way to go and a short time to get there. For the WarPac units in East Germany, getting units off the west edge was easy – deceptively so as while that boosts Soviet morale, it does not help you actually capture Nuremberg. Send too many units off the west edge of the map and you’ll find the NATO units that had been engaging them are able to shift down to cover Nuremberg.

 

Battle for Hof Gap was fun to play. It certainly gives the flavor of the classic mid-1980’s Nato vs. Warsaw Pact game. The unit id values help give the units character and add to a sense of narrative. Instead of just faceless units you’ll commit brigades of the 1st Armored Division, the 11th Panzer or the 18th Guards Tank Division to combat.

For all the fun I had with the game, I did find a few things that caused issues. The first is environmental. In dim lighting the counters were hard to read – the red numbers tended to blend with the background colors. I was surprised by this, but in my initial play of the game I was in a dimly lit hotel room. At first, I thought it was just the counters, but when the playing space was exposed to direct sunlight the counters were quite legible. If you play in a well-lighted space you will avoid this problem.

The map sheets, while doing a great job of presenting the terrain are not printed edge to edge. What this means is that you’ll have to trim one edge of one map sheet so that it properly aligns with the other map sheet. I used a utility knife blade to trim the excess off the east map sheet.

Something I missed in the game is examples of play for the mechanics. Now the rules are pretty straight-forward and there is only 8 pages of actual rules, but I found I had questions on how to apply the rules based mostly on how my brain was interpreting the written text. Adding examples of play would remove some of this ambiguity and ensure that the meaning of the rules is communicated for a broad audience. I was able to solve all my questions through submitting questions to Paul and got prompt replies. But a couple of extra pages might have rendered the need for the questions moot. This is likely not an issue for veterans of the two prior games in the series as the mechanics are pretty much the same.

While the unit id’s are great and do add character, there does not seem be much value to be gained by keeping the brigades of a division together. It stands in contrast to the approach taken by Ty Bomba in his game ‘Putin Strikes’ where divisions are seen to have greater combat effectiveness and resilience than brigades that are operating on their own.  It would be nice to see some value in keeping the brigades of your division together. In Battle for Hof Gap, you don’t have to worry about divisional boundaries or rear echelon headquarters and support units. Maybe that speaks to the high degree of interoperability NATO enjoyed at this time, but it impacts the Warsaw Pact as well.

Battle for Hof Gap is an attractive candidate for a solitaire game. While there are no dedicated AI ‘bots to automate the play of either side, the card draw mechanism provides a good randomized way to determine which side takes a turn. For a player willing to wear both hats, you can play both sides with relative ease.  The card draw mechanic means that you can’t predict what will have on the next card draw. The lack of hidden information (other than the card decks) makes this an easy game to play for the solitaire gamer.

Battle for Hof Gap has a number of things going for it. The straight forward rules make this a great intro game for the new player, or a lighter change of pace for the veteran gamer. The low counter density makes for a fast-moving game. The free form set up gives a sandbox feel for the setup of forces on both sides and helps ensure no two games are the same, preserving the replay value of the game. The dynamic, random nature of the card draw mechanism means players will never know who moves next nor when the game turn will potentially end.

Beyond that, Battle for Hof Gap offers an Interesting operational puzzle with a very fluid game. In the early phases of the game the Warsaw Pact forces punch through the thinly spread NATO troops in a battle of maneuver. Later in the game, this culminates in a frontal assault on a large strongly defended urban area. There is a lot of pressure on the Pact to advance on Nuremberg quickly while also rolling back the NATO units. All this will keep both players engaged across the course of the game.

If you are looking for a good intro game on the World War III that wasn’t, check out the Land of Confusion series.

 

Armchair General Score: % 92

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 as a Product Manager 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.

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