Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Save a Dead Tree: Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes

In January, I decided that one of the things I'd do this year is to take a look at those books on my shelves that I hadn't read or used in any significant way and do just that (and after my recent inventory of just how many books that is, I feel particularly driven to do this). Recently, I've been doing that with Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes/Coffin for Seven Brothers (DHC7B) and the Red Sun, Red Death (RSRD) supplement.

I picked up DHC7B up at Historicon 2009, based on many positive reviews, but it has sat on my bookshelf ever since, used only occasionally for reference sake to answer questions about squad composition and weapons.

 I acquired the RSRD supplement in 2011(?) and it has seen even less use, if that's possible.  At least this book I explicitly purchased to serve as a reference.

If I'm honest, the reason for the lack of use initially was that I really didn't understand that, although it's 1:1, usually individually based,  and a skirmish type game, it isn't a game about individual figures. Which is what I was most interested in - at the time, anything more than a squad on the table seemed like a big commitment. 

I had one squad for any given nation, and that isn't really DHC7B's raison d'etre; it is a 1:1 game where the smallest maneuver element is the team, and the intended organizational unit fielded for a player is one platoon up to a company.

Fast forward to 2013 and I have ample numbers of figures to try the rules out. 

And try I did. 

What I liked:

  • Activation and actions by team does make it feel more like a trained unit and less like individual men running about.
  • Weapons are deadly if they hit.
  • the Guts check when receiving fire can pin the unit even if no figures are removed, aka suppression.
  • Multiple pins possible with increasingly worse effect.
  • Guts check for pin removal.
  • Easy to learn - after a few turns I pretty much had everything I needed to know memorized.
  • Grenades are abstract and easy to handle (I don't know why, but this is a stumbling block for me in a lot of rules) - they pin more often than they'll kill but that's the point I think.
  • Snap fire aka defensive fire, reaction fire, etc.
  • The rules encourage concentrating fire on any given unit, if possible, in order to score multiple pins.
  • Being caught in the open is a bad bad thing.
  • There are a lot of optional rules to pick and choose from.

What didn't I like:
  • Guts check for pin removal - if I understood it correctly, it uses the unmodified Guts value, which means it's really easy to remove a pin if your NCO/jr NCO is still with the team.
  • Actually hitting something in cover is extremely difficult. Thus, combined with easy pin removal, the  units stay on the table a long time even under fire. Hence why I believe the rules encourage concentration of fire. 
  • Modified Guts score takes into account the number of removed figures for a unit, which requires tracking in some way. Casualty figures would be useful for this.
  • Alternating IGO-UGO unit activation, and the unit to activate is player choice. This can likely be rectified by modifying activation to a card-based system, one card per unit, possibly with a Stop/ReShuffle card.
  • Aesthetically, I don't like d10s. Not a flaw in the game, just a personal preference.
  • A fire fight between two squads of USMC and 2 squads of Japanese, both sides in heavy cover, took nearly 2 hours. Even if you factor in the time spent looking things up here and there, that, to my mind, is a long time. Although that's fine if that's the kind of game I wanted, perhaps I'm too influenced by Two Hour Wargames, where the same fight would likely have lasted less than 10 minutes and involved a higher number of dead and wounded.
Despite the fact that there is a lot I like, and although some of the optional rules would address my dislikes - such as the use of any one "1" on a hit to take out the officer or special weapon - over all, I'm left feeling somewhat "meh" about the rules. I won't rule out giving them another chance, especially with optional rules and a card based activation sequence, but other rules, as it stands now, appeal to me more.

Nuts!, although not perfect, undoubtedly plays faster (although I'll try the same exact test scenario to be sure) and feels more chaotic during a fire fight. 

USE ME WWII, which gives much the same feel as DHC7B, might even be easier to learn, is far less money, and requires no theater specific supplement to get info for the Japanese - they're included in the rule book.

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