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Review of Escape from Colditz

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on November 19, 2016

I was privileged to receive a copy of Escape from Colditz about a month ago from Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, who is famous for its series of military history books. I was pleased to be able to finally test play the game with some friends at Broken Sentry Games, a new store in Grand Forks. It was a great time as we navigated the rules and planned our moves. I chose to be the German guards and prevent the escape.

History of Colditz Castle

The game is actually a reboot of a version of the game, with the same title , that appeared in 1973. It is based on the real story of Oflag IV-C, a German POW camp in Colditz Castle that housed Allied officers that escaped from other camps. Several attempts to escape the prison were unsuccessful, but a few were, including Pat Reid, who was one of the designers of the original game.

Several tunnels and bed sheet ropes were constructed to attempt to help prisoners escape. One unique story is that prisoners constructed a glider, named the “Colditz Cock,” from various materials in the camp, which had a wingspan of roughly 32 feet and was to be launched via a pulley system on a runway made from tables. Though the real glider never flew, a replica was built and flown.

Game Components

Osprey outdid itself in the quality of the game pieces. The box art is stunning and the board is quite nice, including the logo being printed on the underside, something I have not seen before.9781472818935

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In addition to the box and board, the other components of the game are quite nice. The cards are sturdy and have nice artwork on them. The pawns represent the nations represented (Americans, British, Dutch, French, Germans, and Poles), more specifically Allied prisoners of war and their German guards.

Another fun thing with this game are the surprises hidden among the game components. There are several replicas of artifacts related to the real history of the POW camp, including a postcard from a prisoner to their family, a Red Cross care parcel, a German Wanted poster for escaped prisoners, and a leaflet urging Allied prisoners to cease escaping. The biggest surprise is hidden in the box and I will not give it away, as you will have to get the game to find out, but it will be worth it.

Rules and Game Mechanics

The rules are pretty straightforward. POW pawns are set up in the white-shaded area of the central courtyard of the castle in a specific way, based on the number of players. The game supports 2-6 players and our play test consisted of four of us, which I felt was a nice balance to grasp the workings of the game.

Each round ends with the German player, with each player rolling dice to determine available movement points, which allows the player to move any number of its pawns up to the die roll. If a player rolls doubles, they may re-roll and add that total to their double roll. Further, if a player rolls a total of five or less, they may draw either an Opportunity Card (Allied players), or a Security Card (German), which can be used during their turn to bring about various events that can aid an escape attempt, or hinder it.1118162019

Allied players navigate the castle, attempting to gather their items needed for their escape kits and equipment to help in the actual escape from the castle, all while trying to avoid arrest and being thrown in solitary confinement, or being shot. Once outside the camp perimeter, the POWs attempt to reach one of several targets on the board that signal a successful escape. The game ends when either two pawns of one nation successfully escape, or the countdown marker reaches the eagle (zero rounds left) and no escapes have succeeded.

The game seems to progress fairly quickly and the cards can affect play in many fun and unique ways. Further, you can feel a little rush when a pawn attempts an escape and the player is attempting to reach a target, or stop an escape.1118162158

One unique aspect of the game is that the rules from the original 1973 version are included in the rule book to allow one to experience the original style of play, which includes “Do or Die” cards that offer the chance of a player getting out by making a break for it. However, there is great risk, as if that player fails, all its pawns are “killed” and removed from the game.

Criticisms

There is much to like about this game, from its relatively simple mechanics and rules, to its beautiful components. That said, there are a couple criticisms I have on the game. First, the circular spaces that pawns move and land on are a bit too small and tight, which can create a cluttered situation on the board in some regards. Coupled with that are the size of the pawns themselves, which are easy to slip out of one’s fingers and slide a bit easily on the board, which can knock other players’ pieces from where they may have been. Slightly larger spaces on the game board would alleviate this issue, as well as perhaps putting a surface on the bottom of the pawns to prevent them from sliding on the board as easily would also solve this minor problem.

The other has to do with the number of rounds in a game, which the rules suggest starting at 50, with an option of starting at 40 if players are more experienced. Given our game took over 3 hours (despite it being our first time), it seems that 50 rounds might be a bit much and the board has marks for up to 70 rounds. That said, like the issue of board spaces and pawns, this is a minor issue that does not significantly impact my feelings on the game overall.

Final Thoughts and Ratings

Escape from Colditz is a great game with a unique and exciting theme that will appeal to a wide variety of gamers, from those into historical games, to those who enjoy strategy with a twist. Osprey did an amazing job on this reboot of a classic and it’s one that you should have in your game collection.

Ratings:

Components-5 stars (an awesome board and game components with the addition of replica artifacts and a wonderful surprise too)

Rules and Mechanics-5 stars (relatively simple and easy to learn, plus the optional 1973 rules are a nice touch)

Design-5 stars (beautiful artwork and game play)

Price-5 stars (At $65, you definitely get your value with this game.)1118162220

Posted in Game Review, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of Redeye Fulda Cold by Bill Fortin

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on December 29, 2015

Bill Fortin, Redeye Fulda Cold: A Rick Fontain Novel. Cold War Publications, 2015. Maps, Illustrations, Photographs. $16.15. 422pp.

Readers of this blog who are interested in the Cold War, intelligence, technology, and historical fiction will likely enjoy a novel that covers the European Theater of the great game between East and West.  Bill Fortin, a US Army veteran from 1968-1970, who served in West Germany, wrote a novel based around his experiences in the 3rd Armored Division that provides a unique story into an obscure area of Cold War operations.

RedEye Fulda Cold examines the conflict from the eyes of soldier Rick Fontain. Fontain, a draftee from Maryland, enters the Army in April 1968, when most were sent to Vietnam. Based on his test scores, Fontain is offered a slot at OCS, having some college under his belt, but chooses another path that leads him to Fort Bliss, Texas for training on the Redeye shoulder-fired missile system and station in West Germany. He serves about a year and a half at Coleman Kaserne as a member of 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, coordinating the implementation of Redeye into the area as part of the defense against Warsaw Pact forces.

During his time in service, Fontain meets Bill Douglas, who goes by several aliases and works for the CIA as part of their efforts to wage the Cold War around the globe. The encounter connects Fontain with important individuals connected with the intelligence game in Europe, while also shielding his career along the way. With his abilities and personality, Rick successfully implements Redeye into his unit, becoming a leading non-commissioned officer (NCO) overseeing the deployment of the system as part of the larger defense strategy in the area against a potential Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap. In addition, Fontain’s expertise and his connection to Douglas allow him to interact with high-level personnel in the Army and CIA communities. During his time in West Germany, Rick finds time to socialize with the locals, including finding a love interest. Eventually, after several unique adventures, Fontain’s time in Germany ends, but this is only the beginning of his role in the Cold War.

Fortin presents Rick Fontain as an honorable character and capable leader, who looks out for those around him and finds a camaraderie in the Army that is attractive to him in many ways. Further, the men and women he encounters along the way are as interesting, making you want to know more about them as well. The story itself is quite good, with lots of interesting happenings and side stories. While initially expecting a different trajectory, leading to a “Cold War gone hot” situation, I was overall pleased with how the story turned out. Basing the story and characters on his own real-life service, Fortin did an outstanding job of writing a convincing novel on the Cold War that read more like a memoir than a work of fiction. That said, Fortin should strongly consider writing his memoirs of his real service in West Germany, as they would be quite useful to scholars of Cold War history.

Those interested in technology in the Cold War will not be disappointed, as the complexities of the Redeye system are detailed, as are vehicles, aircraft, and early work with remotely piloted aircraft. In addition, those who enjoy spy novels and intelligence/espionage type stories will get something from this book, as while not a work like Ian Flemming’s or Tom Clancy’s, there is sufficient political and intelligence intrigue that should whet the appetite of this audience. Finally, those into military historical fiction will enjoy it simply as a novelization of one common soldier’s service in Western Europe during an often overshadowed time and place in Cold War history.

My only two major issues revolve around stylistic choices. Fortin’s organization of the book somewhat detracts from the typical styling of a novel, as he breaks up chapters into several sections based on a particular time and place, which breaks up the flow of the story a bit. However, it is only a minor issue that helps readers discern where Rick Fontain is. The reason it is a slight issue is that it causes the book to read as a memoir, which it is not meant to be. The other criticism is Fortin’s use of footnotes that explain military slang and abbreviations, as well as certain biographies of important real-world individuals associated with the real happenings of the story arc and technical information. While these make the work accessible to a wider audience, they are also distracting, as they break up the flow of the story. Further, given that this book is going to have a core audience that will likely know what the terms mean, they come across as a bit redundant.

Overall, the book is a solid story of Cold War historical fiction with compelling characters and good prose. It will appeal to a wide and diverse audience and will leave readers wanting to pick up Fortin’s next novel in the Rick Fontain saga, which Fortin will hopefully produce. If looking for a good winter read that has history, technology, and the Cold War, go grab Redeye Fulda Cold.

Posted in American Military History, Book Reviews, Cold War, US Army | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The King is Dead-A Great New Game by Osprey

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 31, 2015

The King is Dead: Struggles for Power in King Arthur’s Court by Peer Sylvester and illustrated by Peter Dennis ($24.95)

Two weeks ago, I received a copy of a new game by Osprey Games, a division of Osprey Publishing, known for their series of military history books. Osprey Games seeks to bring the reputation of the publisher to the world of tabletop and miniature gaming, which is growing in popularity (if the game Twilight Struggle on the Cold War is any indication). The game is called The King is Dead and if it is any indication of what Osprey is hoping to create for historical and fantasy games, future products should prove to be quite good.

The game is set in early medieval Britain, in the wake of Arthur’s death. Players assume the role of a member of his court seeking to gain influence over three factions in Britain: the Welsh, Scots, and Romano-British, all of which are vying for control of the various regions of the island. In the background is the constant threat of a Saxon invasion. While some of the game is wrapped up in the legends of Arthur, the historical aspect comes from the very real conflicts between Britons and the Anglo-Saxon forces during the late 5th and early 6th centuries A.D. According to Osprey’s page dedicated to the game:

The King is Dead is a board game of politics and power struggles in the dark Arthurian Britain for 2 to 4 players.

King Arthur is dead. The nation is divided. The Saxons are coming.

Now, more than ever, Britain needs a ruler who can unite the kingdom, but who will take the crown? Players work behind the scenes, marshalling their limited resources to give power to competing factions and gain influence within their ranks. Players owe loyalty only to themselves, however, are free to shift their allegiances as they see fit. Whoever has the most influence over the most powerful faction will rule Britain from the shadows. But be careful – too much infighting will give the Saxons an opening and put the entire nation at risk.

Its rules and mechanics are quite simple, but with a degree of strategy to keep it quite interesting. I test-played it with a co-worker Friday afternoon and we both found it enjoyable and fun. The length of play is between 30-45 minutes, making it great for players seeking a quick game that is still fun. The game board is very nice and mounted on cardboard, containing a map of Britain divided into eight regions.

The action is driven by cards, with each player having eight action cards they can play. There are also eight region cards that are shuffled and then placed next to each section on the board edge, numbered 1-8. Players then engage in power struggles related to that region, where they attempt to have more followers from one of the three factions (represented by colored cubes) than the other two in a region to gain control of that region for their faction. At the same time, players are removing a follower from the board and inviting them to their court. Power struggles for the regions end when both players consecutively pass and are decided by the number of followers in the region.

The action cards allow a player to move followers, settle followers, or garrison a region with followers. When a region falls under a faction’s control, the followers are moved into the common pool in the corner of the board and are no longer contested. If no faction has a majority when the power struggle ends, it comes under the control of the invading Saxons. This is something the players do not want to happen.

When all eight regions have fallen under a faction’s control, the game ends and whichever faction holds more regions and whichever player has more of that faction’s influence by the number of its followers in their court becomes the next King of Britain. However, if the Saxons control enough territory, the winner becomes the leader of the resistance.

Overall, this game is similar to another board game I have played with historical themes Tammany Hall, which I also enjoyed. The game is easy to play, requires a degree of cunning and strategy to both sway favor with the factions, while also preventing your opponent from gaining an advantage, or letting the Saxons invade. It can be played with 2-4 players and also has an advanced option for King Mordred’s followers.

With a nice board, a great theme, nice components, and a clever box with storage for the components, The King is Dead is definitely a great game and well worth its price of $24.95. It’s short playing time make it great for a lunchtime game with friends, and its relative simplicity makes it accessible to younger players too, as while the recommended age is 12 and up, I think with the right explanation of the rules and some patience, slightly younger kids could even play this game. If you are looking for a good gift for that gamer in your family, or someone that is interested in medieval Britain this holiday season, definitely add The King is Dead to your shopping list.

Download the game rules here.

Check out its Board Game Geek page too.

Posted in Game Review, Medieval Military History, Other military history | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Osprey Publishing examines the Forts of the Frontier

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on October 26, 2015

Originally posted at Frontier Battles

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast, 1600-1763. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2010. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Chartrand, Rene. The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch, and Swedish colonies. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Illustrations, Maps, Photographs, Index. 64 pp. $10.42.

Many of you may be familiar with Osprey Publishing, which produces hundreds of titles related to military history on a variety of subjects. Those interested in the forts of the British colonies and New France will enjoy two titles that Osprey released a few years ago. Forts were important to the history of the colonial frontier, as some of the pivotal battles of the wars that occurred in North America between Britain and France were fought for control over fortifications (ex. Forts Duquesne, Carillon, and the fortress of Louisbourg). Therefore, understanding them and how they were constructed is important to understanding the broader competition for empire in North America.

In 2010, Osprey released The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast 1600–1763 by Rene Chartrand. The book is a wonderful introduction to the various levels of fortifications and change over time of them across France’s far-flung colonial empire in North America. Several would be fought over during the series of wars between France and Britain (King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War).

The book is beautifully illustrated, as is customary for Osprey products, with several plates devoted to different forts in New France. The book follows a chronological and geographical flow, examining the forts of each region of New France (Gulf Coast, Plains, and Great Lakes region) from the earliest period of French colonial activity to the conclusion of the French and Indian War, when France was expelled and the territory transferred to British control.

The garrison sizes were discussed, as most forts in the regions were smaller affairs, served by only a couple dozen troops. In addition to establishing French claim over the area, the forts served as centers of trade and establishments of relations with Native Americans. Many of the early forts were established specifically to facilitate trade with Native American groups, especially those in the Great Lakes area (the Pays d’en Haut). Most forts were simple wooden construction and relatively small, but some grew into very large stone fortifications by the eighteenth century.

The forts covered allowed France to maintain its authority over such a vast swath of North America and make its claims over areas. They also served as scenes for the struggle for empire between Britain and France, and with Native Americans in North America. One fort that I was delighted to see included was Fort de Chartres in southern Illinois. I have visited this restored post several times, as it is only a couple hours from my hometown. The book discussed to two distinct fortifications at the site, first wooden, later replaced by stone, both under constant threat from the Mississippi River.

Like the French, the English (later British), Dutch, and Swedes established forts in their colonies to serve as places to claim territory, establish trade with Native Americans, and protect their imperial frontier from French and Native incursion. In The Forts of Colonial North America: British, Dutch and Swedish colonies (2011), Chartrand examined the history of fortifications built by the English, Dutch, and Swedes during the 17th century and the conquest of the latter by the English. Later, these sites became the backbone of British control over its North American colonies and the front line of defense when war with France raged. Like the French, these forts also started as smaller, simple wood-constructed stockades, with some growing into larger wooden fortifications, or taking on stone facades.

This book provides a wonderful general introduction to early colonial history along the American coast and traces the history inland, as Britain begins to establish inland forts. Several forts are illustrated in beautiful color plates that attempt to show readers what they may have looked like in their day. One fort that is featured is Fort William Henry, site of a major siege during the French and Indian War that was later novelized and dramatized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and its film adaptations.

Rene Chartrand was an excellent choice to write these works, as his background is fitting for writing such works for a broad audience seeking a general informative overview. He served as curator for over three decades for Canada’s National Historic Sites before venturing into freelance writing. This allows him to write the works for the casual reader that is seeking knowledge on the broad subject as opposed to a deep academic analysis.

Both books provide wonderful information about the subjects they cover, including detailed maps, chronological tables of key events, as well as glossaries of terms related to the subjects, allowing readers who do not have the background to better appreciate the subject covered. Though geared towards general readers and non-academic audiences, these two books are great for those seeking to get an introduction to the forts of colonial America and some basic factual information surrounding them. They serve as a springboard for diving into other literature on the subjects of fortifications, New France, British America, relations with Native Americans, colonial military history, and a bit of engineering.

Well-researched and illustrated, these two books are worth having on your shelf if remotely interested in colonial era fortifications. While they focus on the sites of empire, Osprey also suggests other related titles that deal with the troops of the various imperial powers fighting for control of North America. At less than $15, these books are a great deal to begin building a library on colonial history and can be enjoyed by readers both young and old, though I would say a good minimum age for these works would be around 12-14 given the subject matter and terms used.

If a fan of Osprey books, or just a casual interested person looking for something different, certainly give these two works a try.

Posted in Book Reviews, General, Other military history, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin-Wargaming World War II on the Eastern Front and Beyond

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on September 7, 2015

Chambers, Andy. Bolt Action. Vol. 10, Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2015. 112pp. Illustrations, Photographs. $29.95 (Paperback), $15.95 (e-book and PDF).

Wargaming is a growing hobby, coupled with a resurgence in tabletop gaming, that is popular across the world, but particularly in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and in the U.S. There are many periods represented in both historical and fantasy, and even more options for rules and miniatures, allowing players to dream of elaborate tables, with flocked terrain and immaculate buildings, as well as beautifully painted miniature soldiers and vehicles.

One such game, Bolt Action, allows players to simulate squad-level combat in World War II. Created by Warlord Games and authored by Rick Priestley, of Warhammer fame, Bolt Action offers players a multitude of options for recreating World War II fights in miniature. In addition to the main rulebook, one option for Bolt Action players seeking to take on the Eastern Front is the book Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin, written by Andy Chambers.

Ostfront takes players from the Far East conflict between the Soviets and Japanese to the Winter War, the various operations that revolved around Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet counter-attack that led to the capture of Berlin. Available armies include German forces, Finnish, Soviet, and Japanese, while theater-specific rules provide interesting opportunities for varying scenarios, including night fighting, mud, ice, and snow.

The book does an excellent job of discussing the intricacies of the individual scenarios, including objectives and various vehicle options. It covered the background history of the broad campaigns and the specific battles.  Featuring exquisite artwork that is customary for Osprey-published works, this book is a must for those who seek to game with German and Soviet forces. It is important to note that it is not a stand-alone set of rules, but a supplement to the main Bolt Action rules.

Having played Bolt Action, I’ve enjoyed the mechanics of the game and the smaller, squad-based, scale. This book is one of several theater-specific supplements that allow players to customize their gaming experiences even more than with the main rules. A well-organized, beautifully-illustrated book, Ostfront will delight gamers seeking to either take on the Soviet Union, or defend the Motherland at all costs. For experienced players seeking to expand their Bolt Action offerings and go in a different direction by fighting the Soviets versus Japan, or Soviets versus Finland, Ostfront should be on your shelf next to the main rulebook.

For more information on the game, please visit their webstore and check out this video.

You can also watch a demo game here.

Posted in 20th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Conflict, Other military history, World War II | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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