My first wargame was Panzer: A Tactical Game of Armored Combat on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 designed by Jim Day for Yaquinto Publishing in 1979. I loved the game so much that I picked up the other two games in the original Panzer series, ’88’: A Tactical Game of Armored Combat on the North African Front, 1941-1943 (1980) and Armor: A Tactical Game of Armored Combat in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (1980). Through the years I acquired more World War 2 tactical ground combat designs. They include the entire second edition of the Panzer series from GMT Games that started with Panzer: The Game of Small Unit Actions and Combined Arms Operations on the Eastern Front 1943-45 (2012, 2016) as well as the Academy Games Conflict of Heroes series, in particular Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 (Third Edition) (2019). All of which is to say that I really don’t need another World War II tactical battle game.
Nonetheless, in late 2022 I took advantage of the Flying Pig Games Holiday Sale and acquired Old School Tactical: Volume 2 – Western Front 1944/45 designed by Shayne Logan (Flying Pig Games, 2017). The introduction to the game certainly sounds old school but with a tantalizing hint of something new:
Old School Tactical (OST) simulates small unit engagements in World War 2 and beyond. You will fight tactical battles with the men and historical weaponry of the battle represented in the game.
Players contest areas of a map board using counters representing soldiers, weapons, and vehicles. On a turn, play goes back and forth between the sides as Impulse Points are used up as actions by each player’s forces. When the battle is over, victory conditions determine a winner.OST, Vol. 2, Intro
OST: Volume 2 – Western Front 1944/45 focuses on, as the title says, the Western Front. As the ad copy details:
The popular Old School Tactical series returns for its second edition with Old School Tactical Volume II: West Front 1944-45. This iteration of the quick to learn, challenging to master, tactical game introduces the Americans to the series. Fight across the European countryside with M-10 tank destroyers and Sherman Easy Eight Tiger tank destroyers. Pile your powerful rifle squads into venerable M5 halftracks or nail an onrushing armored car with a bazooka. Find your enemy, fix them, flank them, and finish them. If it works on the battlefield it works in Old School Tactical, and it works with minimal fuss and muss.OST: Vol.2, web page
Plain OId School
At first glance, OST: Vol. 2 is very old school. Cardboard counters represents individual vehicles and individual leaders or squads of soldiers. Each hex is 50 meters across and every turn represents a few minutes of time. All that looks very old school and not much different from Panzer or Storms of Steel or so many other wargames that have come before. Yet, for as old school the roots of Old School Tactical are, this wargame is actually a very modern gaming take on tactical engagements. Which is both its strength…and weakness.
From Eurofront to Eurogame
The first major difference—and strength—that sets OST: Vol. 2 apart from other tactical wargames is the details of the games appearance. The box that Old School Tactical: Volume 2 comes in is HUGE. As in 16″x11″x2.5″…easily one of the largest wargame boxes on my shelf and more akin to a large strategy boardgame box. The box is sized this way to accommodate the large single mounted game board. The hexes on the mounted map boards and the counters are large. The counters are die-cut with “Euro”-style rounded corners. While the rule and scenario books are laid out in a somewhat wargame-classic point form style they are in full color and well illustrated. The two-sided Player Aid, although in color, is fairly standard and perhaps the least graphically appealing of all the components. Then there are the cards. Unit Cards are extra reminders of what a unit is and are helpful as the player won’t have to paw through a stack of counters to see relevant factors. Luck Cards will be discussed below.
Not only does Old School Tactical: Volume 2 have Eurogame influences in the components, the game mechanisms have several modern flairs which are—dare I say—more “gamey” than some might expect and are another strength of the game. To my mind, three game mechanisms in particular stand out.
The Impulse System. The Impulse System is intended to “represent the uncertainty of battlefield command” (Rule 62). The scenario will direct how many die are rolled each turn to determine the number of Impulse Points available. One Impulse Point can be used to “Move, Fire, Assault move, Rally, call in an off-board artillery strike, etc.” As the rules note “This system can be frustrating at times but it is also realistic. The fluid nature of the battle will also change your use of Impulse Points” (Rule 62).
Combat Formula. There is no computing combat odds in this old school wargame! All combat in Old School Tactical uses the same basic combat formula: Attacker Firepower – Defender Defense = Attack Firepower. Two combat tables are used, the Infantry Combat Table for attacks against foot/soft targets and the Vehicle Combat Table for attacking vehicles.
Luck Cards. At the start of the game each player draws a Luck Card. The card can be used during any of the player’s Impulses during the game.
Old School Curriculum
Old School Tactical is a wargame series. Depending on your personal gaming preferences this may be viewed as a strength or a weakness.
The rule book in my copy of Old School Tactical: Volume 2 is Old School Tactical Rulebook Ver 5.5 which is also the latest version available for free on the Flying Pig Games page for OST: Volume 2. [I also note that Ver 5.6 is linked off the Old School Tactical: Volume 3 page.] As befits a series rule book, not all the rules are applicable to the particular volume. Even so, as I read the rule book a few rules stood out to me:
- 2/ Turn tracker. Turns in Old School Tactical are counted DOWN. I can’t think of another wargame that uses the countdown approach and it is, frankly, a bit confusing and certainly takes a bit to get used to.
- 3/ Extended Play. Once the turns count down there is a chance for an extra turn.
- 6/ Mounting losses. More casualties means fewer Impulse Points for actions.
- 54/ Degraded LOS. In many wargames, certain terrain blocks line of sight (LOS), but in OST some terrain degrades LOS; i.e. attack values are incrementally reduced the further into the terrain the firing passes.
- 57 / Luck Cards. Sometimes Luck is a one-time event, other times a continuing condition. At times Luck is unusable; like the rule book says, sometimes “your luck is bad.”
- 62/ The Impulse System. This is the “gimmick” rule of Old School Tactical.
- 64/ Gut Check. Units that are Shaken or Broken in combat have a chance to shake it off.
- 69/ Limited Actions. Units are limited to two actions per turn. A very important element of the Impulse System that is separated for reasons I cannot fathom.
- 75/ Group Move. Vehicles may not group move with other vehicles but can be part of a group with a Leader and foot units or support weapons.
- 76/ Rolling Cover. A variation of Group Move where foot units can advance with a vehicle using it for cover.
- 90 / Vehicle Combat 16. Acquired Target. Firing with the same unit at the same vehicle gains a positive to-hit modifier.
- 99/ Tank Duel. Melee with tanks!
Overall, the rules for Old School Tactical: Volume 2 are not complicated once they are unraveled. Gameplay is rather straight-forward and the though some chrome rules are present they don’t seriously bog down play. The back and forth spending of Impulse Points keeps both players engaged throughout the turn.
The “gimmick” in the Old School Tactical series of wargames is the Impulse System. The Impulse System, with its variable, even somewhat unpredictable number of Action Points challenges players to make do with what they get. The Impulse System is similar to the Command/Action Point system used in Conflict of Heroes, Second Edition but the variability is closer to the Spent Die found in Conflict of Heroes, Third Edition. As I’ve written about before, I welcome this type of variability (uncertainty?) in my wargames as it organically creates more narrative moments in play.
Can’t See the Rules Through the Trees
Lest you think I am totally enamored with this armored wargame, I believe Flying Pig Games missed an opportunity with the rule book for Old School Tactical. While I praise the rule book for being in color and illustrated, it is also something of a mess. To be blunt, the rule book for Old School Tactical: Volume 2 is poorly organized. There is a Contents page but no index. Rules that depend on each other are separated—too often in a seemingly illogical manner—with little-to-no cross-reference.
I also strongly believe too many of the 24 pages in the Old School Tactical: Volume 2 rule book are taken up by rules that would be better placed at the end of the rule book or on a player aid. Specifically I’m calling out five pages of rules for terrain. As the rule book is laid out, the five pages of rules for terrain come after the rules for units but before the rules for movement or combat are presented. It makes sense to me to move the five pages of terrain rules to the end of the rule book (or onto player aid cards) so they are read after the Impulse System and rules for movement and combat are introduced. The rules for terrain, which in many cases are modifications or exceptions to the base rules, would be better first encountered after the base rules have been read.
Finally, Old School Tactical Rulebook Ver 5.5 also needs another editing pass. There are pagination differences between the Contents page and the actual location of some rules in the book. Most every rule uses line numbers making the few that use bullets (or neither bullets or numbers) stand out like a sore thumb.
Going to School By Yourself
Old School Tactical is designed as a two-player wargame. That said, the scenario book has two solitaire scenarios included. In both scenarios the German Forces are played by the AI. The AI in the solo scenarios executes actions according to the roll of a d6 against a table. It’s nothing complicated; in the words of scenario designer Mark Walker, “I don’t claim the AI is even close to bullet proof, just something to take some of the choices out of the player’s hands.”
Disappointingly, I also discovered that one cannot play both solitaire scenarios in Old School Tactical: Volume 2 using the components in the box. That is because scenario S1 requires the use of “Pocket Maps 1 & 2” which are not included. For a game that prices itself at the higher end of the market I see this as inexcusable.
Old School, New Money
Like I talked about above, I bought my copy of Old School Tactical: Volume 2 – Western Front 1944/45 during the Flying Pig Games Holiday Sale. It was the only real way I could afford it as the regular retail price is $100!
Old School Tactical is somewhat comparable in price to Conflict of Heroes: Storm of Steel Third Edition though the theater of war covered is different. Conflict of Heroes does not have a Western Front title available yet. In terms of components and production quality both the Flying Pig Games and Academy Games products are quite similar (though I have to give an edge to Academy Games).
The Panzer series from GMT Games is a far more comprehensive and a more richly detailed game system than Old School Tactical. If you want to play similar Western Front battles, you need to own both the base edition of Panzer and Expansion #3 each of which will set you back around $80.
Old School Expectations
My feelings on Old School Tactical: Volume 2 – Western Front 1944/45 are somewhat mixed. I see the game as having several strengths but also some bothersome weaknesses. The hesitancy I have that prevents me whole-heartedly praising the game relates both to price and my expectations.
Through the process of writing this posting I also came to (belatedly) realize that my attempt to compare Old School Tactical to Panzer or Conflict of Heroes is not fair. Old School Tactical: Volume 2 is a squad-level treatment of small unit actions where tanks often acted in support of infantry. Vehicles (not always tanks) appear in 10 of the 16 scenarios but almost always in some sort of supporting role. Once I got past my “bias” of looking for a tactical armored combat wargame the strengths of Old School Tactical: Volume 2 came out more clearly.
If Old School Tactical has a drawback it is the price which, at retail, seems a bit steep to me. Given I got my copy of the game at a discounted sale price I recognize that I shouldn’t complain but I feel the point is still important to make. While the retail price seems about right (maybe just a little on the high side?) for the quality of the game components, the quantity seems a bit on the light side. I am not sure if I feel this way simply because the box for Old School Tactical: Volume 2 is so big the contents seemingly get lost or if it’s because—though the counters are nicely sized—there simply are fewer than I subconsciously expect. While it should not make any difference, I just can’t get past the expectation that Old School Tactical: Volume 2 should have more tanks in it. To be fair, the Flying Pig Games website actually says the game “simulates small unit engagements” so they didn’t mislead me; I just didn’t consider what that means.
I talked at length about the rules above but didn’t talk about table presence. Old School Tactical: Volume 2 comes with series Map 4. This map, when laid out, is a somewhat weirdly sized 30″ x 41″. Many scenarios use only a portion (sometimes a very small portion) of the larger map requiring the use of some sort of edge ruler to see the playing area at a glance. The map is not geomorphic; many game tracks are laid out around the edge. This makes playing Old School Tactical: Volume 2 a bit unwieldy as you need at least a 3′ x 4′ area to play even when your battle might be using only a 15″ x 11″ area. I can’t help but feel that Old School Tactical would be better served by geomorphic maps and tracks moved to player aids.
Getting past my hesitancy, I have to praise Shayne Logan and Flying Pig Games for a nice game. While Old School Tactical: Volume 2 – Western Front 1944/45 appears very much like a classic hex & counter wargame, the more euro-like components along with the Impulse System, Combat Formula, and Luck Cards as well as a few lightly-chromed rules delivers a highly playable and very enjoyable game. I guess I just have to wait for the different games to come on sale…
Feature image courtesy RMN
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