Publisher: Lock ‘n Load Publishing
Game Designer: Jeff Lewis, Mark Walker
Artist: Nicolás Eskubi, David Julien, Marc von Martial
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 120-480 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $80
Lock ‘n Load Tactical
Lock ‘n Load Publishing (LnL) has an extensive catalog of wargames, covering everything from the tactical to the strategic level. After a thorough consolidation of the Tactical series, including re-titling some of the games, LnL is preparing for a heavy re-release schedule of their entire catalog, including the Tactical series, within weeks.
LnL has worked hard at revamping and improving the Tactical series, now providing everything needed for each product in its core box. No longer must you purchase different products to get the full experience, it’s now baked right in. This is something that LnL CEO David Heath felt strongly about changing, and is a testament to the company’s consideration for their customers.
Prepare for Battle
Having heard nothing but great things about LnL Tactical (LnLT), I was excited for my first foray into the system when I received Heroes of the Motherland a few months ago for review. Over the years I’ve purchased several LnL games and have enjoyed them all, and definitely felt like I’ve gotten my money’s worth. As a big fan of Conflict of Heroes and Band of Brothers, I was curious to see how the LnL Tactical series would stack up. There’s plenty of room for more tactical systems, each to scratch a different itch.
The gobs of goodies in Heroes of the Motherland is impressive, and also a fantastic value. Starting you on your journey are the v4.1 core rules, along with the module specific rules/scenario book. Each is done in full color, using 12 point font, which is great for those of us with aged eyes. The scenario book covers the weapons, units, 12 scenarios, and 5 scenario campaign set in the East Front.
These are flanked by 14 gorgeous geomorphic cardstock maps (14 extra X-maps also come with pre-orders), several huge reference charts, and 550 pre-rounded counters that punch fairly clean and easy. Stepping things up even further, LnL is now packaging all of these games in 3” boxes. This gives plenty of room for proper sorting, and eliminates the ugly lopsided covers of the smaller boxes.
First impressions are everlasting as they say, and mine were very positive right out of the gate. However, looks aren’t everything, and can at times be deceiving. This isn’t one of those times though. The both looks good, and plays even better!
LnLT plays similar to most games in the genre but has some distinct differences, along with a healthy dose of chrome. The games use the recognizable alternating impulse system, with the initiative winner moving or firing any number of units from one hex in turn. Exceptions to this are units with assault move capability, such as heroes and other special units. Armor is good for more than just combat; they can double as transports for small numbers of troops. Handy to have when you need to scoot infantry close to the objectives in support of your tanks.
Combat is handled through opposed die rolls. The attacker sums the firepower of all attacking units, and support weapons to a 1d6 roll, and this is compared to the defenders 1d6 roll. What’s interesting here is there are no inherent defense modifiers for infantry. Gaining defense modifiers, requires you to use terrain to your advantage. This forces players to use a more realistic approach, cover is your friend, so use it!
Weapons teams and armor use specific to-hit tables, listed on the back of the counter, which are dictated by range. Facing matters with armor, as they do have defense modifiers. Front slope armor is much tougher than the sides, as it is in real life, so be mindful of your facing with them. HotM has plenty of favorite Soviet armor to play with, the T-34, SU-76 and KV-1’s up against German Pz III, Marder’s, Tigers and King Tigers all make appearances throughout.
Two big factors of the LnLT series are leaders and heroes, as one would expect given the titles in the series start with Heroes of…. Leaders are major drivers in unit behaviors, able to activate large groups of troops at once, extending their movement to match their own, rally shaken units, and add modifiers to attacks and damage checks. If they become wounded, their sphere of influence degrades.
Heroes are huge, and are oftentimes part of the order of battle in a scenario. Other times, they may also spawn during the damage check process of combat. As the name implies, these troopers have a bit more swagger in their step, and a random specialty skill to boot. Hero’s amp up the action, providing a really fun, Hollywood action movie quality to the games narrative.
Where things diverge from other titles in the genre, is in how sighting works. Line of sight is handled in standard fashion, but is expanded upon with the need to spot a unit in order to engage, which I found really interesting.
Spotting is either situational, or through actively looking for an enemy. Situationally, a unit that fires or moves can be seen, and is automatically spotted. When the unit doesn’t move, or moves by stealth or low crawling, you must first pass a spotting check in order to engage. While your troops can see that hay field, they must put an extra effort into spotting the enemy within it to engage.
I really like how this mechanic keeps uncertainty in the mix. It imparts a bit of the human element into the combat model by randomly making the open information less actionable. While it’s obvious that units are moving just a few hexes away, they cannot be engaged until your troops can virtually ‘see’ them.
HotM also uses event markers as storytelling triggers in a few scenarios. Adding surprise attacks, or spawning new units is a real treat the first time through, but loses its impact on repeated plays. I think this is a fantastic aspect of the series and would love to see it exploited further to induce an even great and varied narrative.
The 12 scenarios in Heroes of the Motherland offer a nice mix of close up action and maneuver warfare, with the largest scenario covering four maps. Most of the action pits Soviet Line and Guards troops up against German Wehrmacht soldiers, but there are some Partisan forces sprinkled in. They’re not strong on the offense, but show better field craft than regular troops in the forests, making them true pests in those environments. Soviet troops have the For the Motherland advantage, allowing them to raise the morale of all units in one hex per rally phase, which helps them endure over the long run.
In later scenarios, the Soviet player will have to deal with the fanatical SS Leibstandarte, and these guys are really tough. Not only can they rally without a leader present, they aren’t immediately eliminated if engaged in melee when shaken. Instead, SS troops attempt to rally so they can engage in melee! Don’t expect to shake and then bake these guys, unless you have a flamethrower.
Capping off the action is the 5 scenario Verkhne-Kumsy campaign, as the German 6th Panzer Division attempts to punch a hole to the trapped 6th Army at Stalingrad. This campaign spans a four-day period, and allows for some carryover effects from battle to battle. A random events generator with 12 different events helps keep repeated plays from getting stale.
For a first taste of the LnLT series, Heroes of the Motherland showed me this is a system that will provide many compelling tactical experiences over the long haul. It has the right mix of depth and chrome, and is flexible enough to work in any theater, both WWII and modern. The rules cover a wide swath of topics, creating a non-stop, action movie experience with a simulation feel. It does however take some work to get the rules down, not just for the depth but the rulebook layout is a tad frustrating.
Despite being well written, and fairly well detailed with numerous illustrated examples, the rulebook suffers from a lack of solid organization. Some of the ordering is not in sequence, causing some exceptions to be easily overlooked because of this. Riffling through pages, especially when you’re new to the system, slows things down. It’s a big undertaking, corralling all of that information in a better format, but it’s something that needs doing. Despite that gripe. the effort expended is well worth it!
For those just starting out in the series, I strongly recommend downloading and printing the rule sequence, and walkthrough guides. Both are indispensable at greatly easing the learning curve. As I said the effort is well worth it, not only is the gameplay experience phenomenal but the amount of theaters covered is staggering.
Heroes of the Motherland is a dramatic and exciting interpretation of combat on the Eastern Front. German Wehrmacht and SS engage in brutal struggles with Soviet Line and Guards troops, bolstered by insurgent Partisan forces, across the Soviet landscape. The scenarios tackle everything from armor battles in open terrain, to ferocious close combat through the rubble strewn streets, and multi-story buildings of Russian cities.
While not very difficult to learn, it does take an effort on the players part to grok. Expect to spend several plays referencing rules to pick up on a number of situational exceptions in the game, which references my gripes about the rule book. Something else that LnL would heavily benefit from is a tutorial system tailored for each game. This would assist newcomers get up to speed on the system quickly, being walked through the game they have in hand, rather than reading a walkthrough of a game they may not have.
Once the rules become second nature, Heroes of the Motherland shines at conveying the challenges and brutality of combat. The LnL Tactical system broadens the scope of tactical gameplay with nuances that begin to peek through upon repeated plays in this theater. Close quarter battle among the multi-level buildings is especially vicious, making a deadly run across open spaces a seeming reprieve. Molotov’s see equally devastating use in melee as they do against vehicles, and armor can swing the tempo of the battle quickly. But don’t forget to add infantry support to the armor, lest they fall prey to anti-tank teams.
At its heart, the LnL Tactical series is a line of action packed, squad-tactical games with a realistic flair. A nice helping of chrome brings a breadth of options to the series, allowing it to stand apart from others in the genre. At times it walks the line between game and simulation, but avoids falling into a morass of complexity. Its gameplay is akin to a Hollywood blockbuster, with engrossing pitched battles where ordinary soldiers can evolve into daring heroes to save the day.
Fans of tactical games will thrive in the LnL Tactical series. It is a powerful system with an expansive world, and a body of work that encompasses numerous theaters from WWII through to the modern era. It is a series from which you will be richly rewarded for years to come.
UPDATE: I was just notified that LnL are expecting to have a limited number of copies of these new games on hand at Origins. So if you’re going to the con, grab them up right away, they will go quickly!
Company Website: https://store.lnlpublishing.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/LnLPub
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LocknLoadPub/
Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.