Remembering 1944 – Conflict of Heroes

CoH awakening the bear cover

Yesterday, we took a look at the WW2 game Memoir ‘44 in an effort to pay our respects to veterans on Memorial day weekend. Today we’ll take a look at a slightly more complex WW2 wargame system, Conflict of Heroes, published by Academy Games.

It may seem strange to some to honor veterans by reviewing games based around the battles of World War 2. My intent is to encourage the use of wargames to better understand the details of history. Yesterday’s Memoir ‘44 series has very streamlined rules and some very eye-catching plastic pieces. Today we’re upping the realism just a bit and take a look at the Conflict of Heroes series which features smaller (heavy duty cardboard) and less splashy pieces and slightly more detailed rules, such as flanking and interrupting movement. While Memoir ‘44 could be seen as a basic rules set that gets stretched out a bit to become a very reasonable wargame. The Conflict of Heroes series takes a slightly different tack. It takes much of the “meat” of modern wargames and reduces it down to a very manageable size by simplifying rules and placing much of the required unit information directly on the large (for a traditional wargame) cardboard tokens.

Conflict of Heroes

Unlike Memoir ‘44, each game in the Conflict of Heroes (CoH) series is a complete game by itself. While it is possible to mix and match troops from each game, someone interested in one particular set of battles need only purchase that specific set. The smaller piece size of the CoH games allows maps to use smaller hexagons and thus represent much larger areas in any given battle. While small compared to the plastic pieces of Memoir ‘44, the CoH cardboard pieces are quite large when compared to the pieces commonly found in more detailed wargames.

CoH map and tokens

The CoH cardboard pieces are the key to what makes the series a good introduction to more in-depth wargames. Each unit has a large set of information displayed right on that unit. Any given marker will display that unit’s facing, how easily it can fire and move, its range, its defence (and whether it defends like a hard or soft target), and its effectiveness against hard and soft targets. Hard targets are armored units like tanks while soft targets are weaker units like jeeps or infantry. The designers made a large effort to make sure each unit was correctly represented by the game system. A unit’s statistics take into account things like armor thickness, speed, size, targeting tools, etc. Of course these don’t appear in the game, they simply affect the unit’s overall ratings. While this may be a lot for a beginner at first, having the information easily accessible right on the counter allows one to quickly pick up the rules of the game. Once the basic ideas are learned, a relative newcomer to the game can still pick up any given unit and instantly know almost all its most important information. All this streamlining of the game system allows experienced players to easily play out many of the scenarios in about an hour.

CoH unit token explanation

While cards in Memoir ‘44 dictate which units can be active on any given turn, each unit in Conflict of Heroes have the opportunity to take one turn before the next round can start. Many wargames are set up so that every unit for one side moves, then all the units on the opposing side move. This can cause the inactive player to begin to tune out of the action – especially if there are many units on the field. Conflict of Heroes gets around this problem and keeps both players immersed in the game through the use of action points. Every unit is assigned 7 action points for use during its turn. Units spend this points to perform any number of different actions. The action point cost of performing a given maneuver varies from unit to unit. For instance, it is much easier for a tank or standard infantry unit to maneuver than for a group of mortar specialists. The mortar unit might even require more effort (more action points) to fire, but will likely be more effective in some way. During a turn, a player can activate a (or continue with a previous) unit, take an opportunity action (basically sacrifice a unit’s 7 action points all at once to make a surprise move), spend some of their global action points on a unit (which won’t count against that units 7 points) or take a card action.

As mentioned, a player has a pool of global action points each turn that are In addition to the action points given to a unit. These can be used at any time to modify combat rolls, allow a unit to take a surprise bonus action, as well as play some of the event cards used with the game. It is this interaction between unit action point and managing one’s very limited global action points that creates a very strategic and engaging game. Gone are the days where one side takes an entire turn at once. In Conflict of Heroes, players can react to each others’ moves over and over again – if they’re willing to spend the action points to do so. To help track each units’ actions, each unit token is double sided. Rather than having a healthy and a damaged side, the two sides are actually equivalent but with one side displaying a large red stripe. Thus, when a unit ends its turn, it is flipped over. A quick glance at the board will now show which units have moved and which have not.

Combat damage is simplified as well. Units can be pinned, fighting at lower strength, and – of course – destroyed. After a unit is hit during combat, a token is drawn from the damage pile (one for units on foot, one for vehicles) and it will determine the effect. In fact, if the effect is not simply destruction, the result of the damage isn’t known to the other player until it actively affects gameplay. Thus, the game includes a wide variety of damage results, but without a huge overhead of paperwork of damage tables.

It may seem a bit much at first, but players are quickly able to see how things work. To ease players into the system, each game has several beginning scenarios to be played in order that slowly introduce more units and slightly more complexity to the game – such as new terrain or other combat modifiers.

Two of the games in the Conflict of Heroes series are a complete package. While units can be mixed between games (and there are a couple small “expansions” including one just featuring huge tanks) it isn’t necessary to purchase a specific “core game” before playing. Each game typically has a few hexagonal grid maps – 15×20” each – that can be joined to make larger battles. The maps have terrain pre-printed on the board making setup that much faster. Each game has around a couple hundred cardboard units, player tracking boards (to track action point usage), a deck of event cards, a book of scenarios, and a few hexagonal grid maps. The maps are 15×20”, have preprinted terrain, and can be combined to make larger battles. Game boxes also contain a short beginner booklet that takes players through the basics of the game, slowly adding more complexity in each scenario. It should also be noted that there are many new scenarios available for download via the Academy Games website.

Here’s a rundown of the current games released so far.

CoH awakening the bear cover

Awakening the Bear – Operation Barbarossa 1941 (about $50)
The first game released is now in a second edition that has a few modifications to the rulebook and some infantry pieces. The game focuses on battles on the German eastern front – the invasion of Russia. As claimed by the publisher, a time considered to be the birth of modern warfare tactics. It contains a wide variety of scenarios including scenarios for 3 and 4 player firefights and some optional rules for solitaire games. I prefer this game to the others primarily because it has more map boards (5) than the others. Gaming partner-challenged folks should take note that there is now a solo expansion to Awakening the Bear (about $25) with slightly different rules and unit behaviour in order to serve up a challenging solo play experience.

CoH storms of steel cover

Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 (around $50 – when it is in print)
Focusing on the German-Soviet battles near Kursk this is the game for players who just love tanks. Russian tanks vs German tanks are abundant in these scenarios. Sporting 140+ units, four map boards, and 15 provides scenarios (full of TANKS!) make this one a strong recommendation. However, it currently is out of print so may be hard to find.

CoH price of honor tray inserts

Price of Honour – Poland 1939 (around $40)
The most recent game in the series is NOT a complete game, and requires one of the two previous games to play. This focuses in on the invasion of Poland by both Germany (and its artillery and air force) and Russia. As an expansion it only has two of the maps included but does contain over 200 new unit counters. There are 16 new scenarios, although there are a few that can only be played only with Storms of Steel and others only with Awakening the Bear.

Looking towards the future, the next expansion planned is Guadalcanal – Pacific Ocean 1942 . It obviously covers much of the Pacific Theater fights complete with beach landings, jungle and island warfare, etc… It looks to be yet another complete game. In the future, there is a D-Day expansion which will have heavy emphasis on the airborne invasion of Normandy.

CoH computer game pretty

Finally, there is a computer (PC) version of Awakening the Bear available. It has a passable AI, the ability to play with fancy 3D style graphics or traditional overhead square units on a hex style. The original 10 scenarios for the first game are included as well as more than a dozen new ones. There is also a scenario editor for easy creation of new battles. Players can go up against the AI or play battles online with other real people. (For that matter, there is even a free, exclusively online version of the game that is set up for play between two people.) If you enjoy the PC version, an expansion “Ghost Divisions” adds in two new sets of linked campaign battles focused on Germany heading towards Moscow in 1941. Of course, one can play against the AI or other humans.

CoH computer game overhead
Final Thoughts:
Taken at face value, Conflict of Heroes looks to be yet another deep, complex wargame complete with rules minutia that need to be tracked and managed. However, through the management of unit actions and the ready display of each unit’s abilities on their token, the game manages to take what would normally be too complex or fiddly for most people and turn it into a very manageable game playable in about an hour. While it won’t necessarily appeal to your average Joe on the street, the Conflict of Heroes line goes a long way towards making a very robust, detailed wargame approachable to the masses.




Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Tired of typing this out each time? Register as a subscriber!