By Lost Battalion Games. Ages 12 and up, 2013. $89.95.
Before the rise of the computer game in the 1980s, an armchair general looking to strut his stuff found his theater in board games. Military board games haven’t entirely vanished since then. In fact, they still appear in a wide variety, attracting a small but dedicated group of followers. These games provide the opportunity many students of military history seek: a chance to see if they could have done it better.
To those familiar with computer games and their high-definition graphics, board games might seem a little too retro. And for those imagining old-school games like Risk, reeducation is necessary. Today’s war board games offer great diversity, a high level of realism, and the attention to detail war buffs appreciate. Unlike computer and video games whose “first-person shooter” formats allow a player to control only one soldier, board games are flexible, permitting players to manipulate anything from a single T-34 to the entire Red Army. The thrill of playing an opponent sitting across the table instead of a digital foe is part of the excitement—and part of what keeps the board game community so devoted.
The latest release from established board game manufacturer Lost Battalion Games in its Sergeants Miniatures Game series is Red Devils, based on the actions of British Airborne troops on the Day of Days, just after landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Players command up to a squad of individual soldiers, British or German, against an opponent doing the same. The goal is to successfully complete one of 12 missions included in the rulebook—tasking four British soldiers to destroy a German observation point, for example. The game’s action is based on cards that add skills and weapons to individual soldiers and generate random events. The game ends when one side accomplishes the scenario’s objective—or when the opponent’s soldiers are all casualties.
Each scenario, ordered for the British side, delineates an objective, defines the board configuration, and gives special instructions for weapons and capabilities. Players commanding German troops simply have to stop the British. The situations are historically accurate without being historically specific, and realistically recreate the type of small unit engagement typical of the era’s airborne operations. With experience, players can create their own scenarios based on actual World War II skirmishes or actions they dream up. Since so many possible variations exist, the play is never the same twice.
The players—a group of four to six works best—maneuver soldiers over the stylish game board, a highly detailed terrain rendering featuring fields, woods, and buildings that can be reconfigured. The board is not simplified like Risk’s, but comprises 18 interchangeable tiles of landscape and landmarks and is scaled to match the size of the figures: 10 miniature soldiers intricately designed and about half-an-inch tall. Made of pewter and painted accurately, they are one of the game’s most appealing features.
Red Devils nicely meets the war games’ compromise between playability and realism, replicating the stressful quick decisions a squad makes in combat without too much complexity. Like war itself, though, the rules are complicated. You cannot just open the box and quickly start playing. Players must thoroughly read the rulebook and practice game mechanics first. But once one learns the rules, game play is fluid and action-packed. And, when you and your friends master Red Devils, you can get expansion packs, coming throughout 2014, that offer more fighting options, allowing players to battle in Normandy with the British and U.S. Airborne or as Germans. Eventually, Eastern Front and North Africa packs will be available.
Originally published in the October 2014 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.