Publisher: Academy Games
Game Designer: Uwe Eickert
Playing Time: 60-180 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $80
Proven track record
Academy Games has long been recognized as one of the premiere historical board game publishers in the industry. Their titles span the breadth of history, from the 15th century through to modern times and some are even being used as teaching aids in the classroom.
One of those games is Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear, now in its second printing, and for good reason. This elegant, squad-level tactical system is the brain child of designer Uwe Eickert and is one of the most popular tactical wargames on the market.
Awakening the bear
There is an old axiom which says that battle is the toughest taskmaster, and you’ll get a hint of the validity of that sentiment after playing Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear. The game covers the Eastern Front of WWII during Operation Barbarossa and provides a unique experience and very fun challenge for tabletop commanders everywhere.
What makes Conflict of Heroes so enjoyable is its ease of entry, elegant design, fast action and tough management decisions in the thick of battle. The game doesn’t inundate you with charts, tables and minutiae. Instead, it favors a streamlined approach, with intuitive mechanics and dynamic resolution while not sacrificing a strong impression of realism.
Learning the game is easy by following its stepped approach. The rules are served up in easy to digest portions over the first 7 of 16 total firefights provided with the game. Following this, you can jump right in and learn as you go. Each rule is not only explained clearly, but is further embellished with detailed text and illustrated examples. Personally, I’m a huge fan of this style of learning as a visual learner; learning by doing really resonates with me.
On the production front, the fold-out mounted maps are stunning, and show beautifully rendered countryside with a wide mix of prominent terrain features. The one negative here are the faintness of the hex overlays, it makes reading their numbers more difficult during setup than it should be. The 1” counters are contrary to that, not only nice and beefy but very easy to read. They also use a color coded layout to further help distinguish pertinent stats for each squad and vehicle. The rest of the accessories include player mats, aids, cards, and dice.
Topping it all off is the outstanding and very functional insert that houses the treasure trove of cardboard goodness that comes with the game. There are fifteen 3” slots and half a dozen 2.5” slots to store the entire order of battle for both the Germans and Soviets.
Gameplay is handled through alternating impulses, using a mix of action and command points. This mixture of different action points are the driving force of the games challenge and are used for moving and fighting units one at a time. All units begin their activation with 7 APs, with each action having a varying cost based on unit type and terrain involved.
Activated units complete one action per impulse, with your opponent following suit. This sequence alternates until both units are either fully spent, destroyed or a different unit is activated. If you choose to activate another unit before the first unit is spent, all remaining AP for the active unit are forfeited, and it becomes immediately spent. A unit may stall at a cost of 1 AP, a good way to hold position if you want to see what your opponent’s next move will be.
This back and forth action provides a near real-time dynamic flow that is full of tension and moves at a brisk pace, keeping both players constantly engaged. It is a clever way to simulate the constant tug of war struggle for dominance on the battlefield. Making the process an exciting and challenging management problem for both players that is always in flux, just as for the commanders on the ground. Command action points further expand on this, providing some added flexibility.
CAPs are a limited bank of bonus points each commander has at their disposal for various uses. These can augment an activated unit’s APs or be used to activate another unit, even if it is spent, without changing its status. Up to 2 CAPs can also be used to modify any dice roll either up or down, including the initiative roll at the beginning of the round.
Let’s take a look at a couple of quick examples of how this works. A Soviet rifle squad is moving on a spent German LMG team, who would normally be unable to do anything in defense. However, by paying command points, that LMG team can now either fire at the advancing Soviet unit or move back into better cover.
Another example has an active LMG team already engaged with a Soviet rifle squad that has just become spent. The Soviets then activate a T-34 and move it towards the pesky LMG nest, which will catch hell from that armor. Hoping to halt the T-34’s advance, the German commander spends the appropriate number of CAPs and freely activates a Panzerschreck team to fire at the T-34’s flank.. Regardless of the outcome, the LMG team is still the active unit and the Panzerschreck remains fresh, waiting to be activated with its full complement of 7 AP’s when called upon.
This illustrates how tactically versatile and important command points are. It’s this action point system, along with the combat resolution mechanic that we’ll look at below, that makes the game really shine. These all blend together to layer the experience with interesting challenges, and offer valuable latitude in your decision processes during each impulse and round. For an added twist, CAPs are not a perpetually fixed value; they fluctuate as objectives are held or lost and casualties are taken.
I really like how the CAP fluctuation reflects your troop’s confidence in you. This is an ingenious design of modeling command influence, forcing you to see your troops as more than just simple assets to be thrown away. Keep them alive and you’ll have greater ability to push them that extra mile. Squander them and they won’t be as motivated, making your job that much more difficult.
although not a card driven game, Conflict of Heroes adds another wrinkle by having action cards at your disposal. Some cards cost action/command points, while others are free. These allow for a variety of things such as rallying units, taking free actions, marking an enemy unit as spent or even reducing the amount of CAPs an opponent has for the turn. There are plenty more but I’ll leave those as a surprise for you to explore on your own.
Combat is very straightforward and takes unit facing, line of sight and range all into account. If you have the AP to spend on an attack, the target must be in your forward arc and within range and LOS. The firepower value is added to a 2d6 roll along with any CAP modifiers and is compared to the defense value. Defense is calculated using a mix of the targets defense rating based on its facing, and any terrain modifiers. If the attack value is greater than the defense value, that target is hit.
Damage is determined by a chit pull mechanic, its outcome known only to the defender. While I was a bit unsure of it at first, after seeing it in action I’m completely on board with it. A lucky shot or two can quickly change the complexion of a battle, and this chit pull resolution mechanic emulates that uncertainty quite well. Unlike nearly all wargames, real-world combat outcomes aren’t always clearly evident for the attacker. Well done!
Play can be further spiced up using hidden movement and off board artillery plotting maps that Academy Games has provided as free downloads. This is a great addition for those yearning for fog of war in their games and really adds another dimension of chaos and tactical foresight, further testing your mettle as commander.
After action report
Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear is a fairly easy to learn squad tactical game that creates a rich and dynamic narrative each time you play. It’s fast, fluid action makes for an exciting experience and its solid tactical depth will keep you coming back for more.
While much is abstracted, as it is in most wargames, designer Uwe Eickert has really hit on a winning formula that can work in any theater. The dynamic action point system gives the battles a near real-time flow, filled with tension and highly entertaining, tough decisions in shaping the battlespace.
Tabletop commanders will enjoy its move, counter-move aspects, allowing for immediate response and reactions from both sides. I love IGOUGO, it’s ingrained in our brains as wargamer’s and most certainly has its place, but in a tactical level game, having this sort of control really draws you in.
With a very sharp presentation and non-stop action, this elegant system conveys the challenges of command in a very entertaining way. Without reservation, I say that Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear deserves to be on the shelf of every tactical wargamer.
Company Website: https://www.academygames.com
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Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.