Multiman Publishing (2006)
Country of Origin:
4 8" x 22" mapboards (48-51; printed in both mounted and umounted versions); six countersheets; 3 sheets of terrain overlays; 11 scenarios; Chapter H pages (Axis Minors); 2 SASL Axis Minor cards; Errata pages for 2nd edition ASLRB and SASL (A51-62; D21-26; S27-34)
For years one of the most infamous examples of wargaming vaporware, Armies of Oblivion finally came out in 2006, nearly 15 years after it was first mentioned by name by Avalon Hill in 1992. Its non-appearance, year after year, meant increasing criticism for MMP and a set of expectations that no company could realistically hope to meet. Armies of Oblivion seemed to be the red-headed stepchild of ASL.
Nevertheless, when Armies of Oblivion actually appeared, ASLers were pleasantly surprised to find that Armies is a meaty and substantial module, full of high quality components. Armies contains the entire Axis Minor order of battle (including those counters that originally appeared in Partisan!), allowing ASLers to play scenarios involving Romanian, Hungarian, Croatian, Bulgarian, and Slovak troops. Two colors of counters are included–a “standard” green Axis Minor set of squads, weapons, guns, and vehicles, and a second set of counters, green with a blue outline, for Hungarians. These two sets are needed to represent conflicts between Hungarians and Axis Minor forces that left the Axis and joined the Allies.
The scenarios included with Armies are a fascinating anachronism. Designed in the early 1990s by Brian Martuzas (Paul Kenny and Pete Shelling each contribute one scenario, designed much later in the process), they look like other core module scenarios of that era–big, long, and bulky. Only two of them are at all suited for tournament play; the others will all take a long time to play. Nevertheless, despite their size and length, the scenarios are all interesting situations and are perfect for an all-day meaty game of ASL.
Noteworthy other components include SASL supplements, new rules pages (providing much needed errata for the Platoon Movement rules), and a handful of overlays (mostly hill overlays, but also including an excellent full-length river overlay which will be very popular among scenario designers).
Confusingly, Armies of Oblivion was released in three different versions, so buyers should verify any module purchased to make sure it is the version desired. The first version is a full version with old-style mounted mapboards. Realizing that is stock of those mounted mapboards was not going to be enough to meet demand, MMP also produced a version with cardstock mapboards. However, because the original mounted mapboards had been made available for purchase years earlier, and many veteran ASLers did not need an additional set of mapboards, MMP also made available (only through pre-order) a special mapless version of Armies of Oblivion for people who already had map sets. Stickers on the Armies of Oblivion box should identify which version a particular game is, but those stickers can be removed, so prospective buyers should always “trust but verify.”
All things considered, Armies of Oblivion is a very high quality product.
Bonus: Included below is (most of) a review of Armies of Oblivion written by Mark Pitcavage in 2006 and published originally by the website Strategy Zone Online.
As if to emphasize its physical reality, AOO shows up in a heavy grey box featuring tired Hungarian honveds trudging along a column of vehicles. It is the sort of box that just demands to be opened up and inspected.
Somewhat confusingly, there were actually three different versions of AOO assembled. The differences in the three versions center around the maps. The original AOO mounted mapboards were actually printed many years ago and made available for sale independently by MMP. Over the years, many ASLers purchased those maps and thus had no need or desire to purchase them all over again when AOO finally came out. So MMP thoughtfully allowed people to pre-order a less expensive version of AOO that came without any maps. Except perhaps on the resale market, no one need worry that their version of AOO is mapless, because those copies were only available to people who had specifically pre-ordered them.
So many people, however, had pre-ordered the version with maps that MMP found itself in a bit of a dilemma. The rapidly growing costs involved with producing mounted maps had recently caused MMP to shift to a “semi-mounted” style of mapboard. Instead of the maps being printed onto paper, then glued onto thick cardboard, they would print the maps directly onto a sheet of lighter cardboard. The maps in the two (to date) ASL Starter Kits, as well as the 3rd edition of Beyond Valor, all use this “new style” of mapboard. The new style maps are actually quite nice, being considerably more sturdy than unmounted maps, which are still the standard in board wargaming. But MMP did not have enough “old style” maps to fill the entire print run of AOO.
Consequently, MMP decided to limit the “old style” maps to pre-orders. People buying after the pre-order period was up would get AOO with the “new style” maps. Thus someone who did not pre-order AOO and wanted to buy it right now would have to purchase the “new style” map version, unless they were able to find a retail store or Web seller who had pre-ordered copies of the “old style” map version. Supposedly the games have stickers to let people know which version they are looking at. Confusing? Perhaps, but MMP handled the whole thing in a very customer-friendly way.
AOO thus comes with four mounted or semi-mounted mapboards, depending on what version one has. The maps themselves are very attractive. Board 48 depicts a small crossroads village, which was badly needed. Board 49 represents the outskirts of an urban, perhaps industrial area. Board 50 depicts two large, somewhat wooded hills; the tough terrain and small number of buildings also makes it suitable for PTO scenarios. Board 51 covers a densely built-up city center area, with massive stone buildings that one might find in the center of Vienna or Prague.
In addition to the mapboards, there are three sheets of map overlays, which can be cut out and placed on top of different maps to create more varied terrain. These are not likely to particularly excite many ASL players, but will be of immense use to ASL scenario designers, who are always stretched in terms of the available map resources at their disposal. Two of the overlay sheets have useful hill and woods overlays, but the third sheet is the one that will be most exciting to scenario designers—it is a full-length overlay of a river, allowing designers to turn virtually any mapboard into a river board, or to place rivers at map angles previously not allowed by the system. This is a great gift to scenario designers, who certainly will take advantage of the flexibility it allows to create some attractive scenarios in years to come.
AOO comes with six full countersheets. Two countersheets are ½” infantry counters, while there are four full sheets of 5/8” vehicle and ordnance counters, for a total of 1,264 counters. One infantry countersheet duplicates the Axis Minor infantry who first appeared in the module Partisan. It also includes some fresh additions, such as some higher powered squads to represent late war Romanian and Bulgarian troops armed with Soviet submachineguns.
The second countersheet provides a second set of infantry, green in color with a German blue border, to represent Hungarians, since Hungarians and Romanians fought with each other during the period 1944-45. Both countersheets have the slightly larger unit depiction and typeface that MMP adopted recently, which makes these counters more attractive than their Partisan counterparts of years ago.
Most of the counters represent the vehicles and ordnance of the Romanian, Hungarian, Slovakian and Croatian troops that fought on the Axis side during World War II. These range wildly in quality from World War I era French FT-17 tanks to the Panthers and Tigers that served in Hungarian service. One of the most interesting aspects of the Axis minor forces is how tremendously varied and unusual their armament was.
Accompanying the counters is a new Chapter H section explaining the attributes of the vehicles and guns. Of course, as ASL aficionados know, Chapter H is far more than that; it is an incredibly rich source of detailed information about the manufacture and usage of fighting vehicles and ordnance in World War II. Were the complete Chapter H published independently as a book, it would sell well to World War II armor buffs. Certainly these new pages, depicting the Axis minor vehicles, are an intriguing addition. The only absence that I can see is that the vehicles given by the Germans to their puppet Serbian and Slovenian forces are not mentioned.
In addition to the new Chapter H rules, AOO includes a variety of replacement pages for the existing rules—the first such pages to appear in many years. These replacement pages add the new infantry counters to Chapter A (infantry rules) and the Axis minor forces to Chapter S (solitaire rules). Additionally, they contain Chapter A and Chapter D (vehicle rules) replacement pages introducing a major and much-needed rules change designed to eliminate certain abuses of the vehicular platoon movement rules. New Solitaire ASL charts are also included.
For many ASLers, AOO is not as important for the scenarios that it contains as it is for the rules, counters, and mapsheets, which will allow hundreds of new scenarios to be designed in the coming years and months (already one third party scenario pack featuring Axis minor forces has been published and more products are on the way).
Still, most people’s first impressions of AOO will be from playing one of the 11 scenarios (the box bottom mistakenly says 12 in one location) that come with the game. These scenarios are fascinating in the same way that a time capsule or the movie Jurassic Park may be fascinating. Designed in the early 1990s, they definitely represent a blast from the past in terms of scenario design, which over the past ten years has progressively evolved from predominantly massive, lengthy scenarios to predominantly leaner, faster-playing scenarios. More than anything else, this evolution is due to the popularity of tournament play, which dictates relatively small scenarios, and to the decreasing amount of time on people’s hands as they deal with family and work.
The scenarios of AOO, though, would fit well alongside the oldest ASL scenarios in modules such as Beyond Valor and Yank. They are large and long; the smallest among them is still medium-sized. Because they are so large, many of them will get relatively limited play, but that does not mean they are of low quality. Most of the scenarios in AOO were designed by Brian Martuzas, with veteran scenario designers Pete Shelling, Kenn Dunn, and Paul Kenny each contributing one each.
So far I have played three of the 11 scenarios in AOO and enjoyed all three (thanks go to my esteemed opponents Carl Nogueira, Stan Jackson, and Craig Hornish). Impressions on these scenarios and capsule descriptions of all of them follow:
Scenario 111. Balkan Sideshow. This meaty scenario depicts a very rare occurrence—an action from the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. That campaign was over so quickly, as the Yugoslav army collapsed, that it has not provided the grist for many scenarios. A full 10 turns long, it features the Yugoslavs defending a bridge from attacking Hungarians. Eight Yugoslav squads, aided by pillboxes, barbed wire, mines, and machine guns, set up on the far side of the river, while 10 more Yugoslav squads enter the game area retreating in front of the Hungarians, trying to slow them down. The Hungarians feature 14 cavalry squads, seven AFVs, two trucks towing artillery pieces, and eight squads of assault engineers (complete with a flamethrower and a demolition charge). This was one of the scenarios I played (as the Yugoslavs). The Hungarians have overwhelming force, but they must cross a river, and there are only two ways to do it: directly across a bridge which is likely to be heavily defended, or using their cavalry to swim across the river, which is both time-consuming and dangerous. The Yugoslavs have a fragile, brittle force, which will hurt them in the end game, as their troops lower in quality and strength. They must take every measure to conserve their forces for the end game, since the scenario is so long, and must inflict maximum casualties on the Hungarian forces to ensure that the final Hungarian assault is too weak to succeed. I won this scenario as the Yugoslavs but I don’t think they have any edge.
Scenario 112. Out of Cowardice. Another Yugoslavia 1941 action, this 6-turn scenario, featuring Hungarians attacking the Yugoslav Army, is one of the smallest in the module, so should be popular. The Hungarians have 11 squads and three AFVs, while the Yugoslavs defend with nine very poor squads and a random number of partisan squads representing armed civilians. Depending on the die roll, then, the Yugoslav force may range from 11 total squads to as many as 16 total squads. The Hungarian victory conditions (taking a certain number of buildings) are adjusted based on this die roll as well. However, at first glance, I would rather have a lot of partisans and tougher victory conditions as the Yugoslavs than the reverse, just because the rest of my troops are so poor and unreliable.
Scenario 113. Liberating Bessarabia. The summary of 1941 is the scene for this 8-turn scenario, is one the smallest scenarios in the whole module, featuring 14 Romanian squads and six tanks attacking 11 poor quality Soviet squads and four poor quality tanks. Because of its size, this is likely to be one of the most played scenarios in AOO, and it was the first scenario that I played. The Romanians must take six multi-hex buildings from the Soviets in order to win. Unfortunately for the Soviets, there are six multi-hex buildings right up near the front lines, which means the Soviets cannot easily give ground. Thus most playings of the scenario are likely to be straightforward and bloody. Whoever wins the tank battle will usually have a distinct advantage, and the vehicles of both sides have armor so week that even machine guns may take them out. I won as the Romanians and came away with the sense that they probably have an advantage over the Soviets, although how much of one it would be hard to say. It was a fun scenario.
Scenario 114. Cautious Crusaders. This 9-turn scenario features Soviets and Slovaks fighting each other in the Ukraine in the summer of 1941. Accompanied by 8 vehicles, 20 Slovak squads (some on bicycles) must wrest a coterie of multi-hex buildings from 25 Soviet squads and two light anti-tank guns. Both sides have a little off-board artillery as well. Although the Slovaks have elite squads, their work is cut out for them, as the Soviets outnumber them and have reasonable troop quality. The Slovaks must get the maximum utility from their Czech-made tanks.
Scenario 115. Huns of Steel. This unfortunately named scenario is another East Front scenario, featuring Hungarians on the attack against Soviets in the summer of 1942. Nine turns long, this scenario features 20 first line and elite Hungarian squads (riding horses and motorcycles), accompanied by 16 AFVs (half of them Panzer Mk IVs) attacking 18 Soviet squads, heavily armed, who are assisted by an artillery piece, a lot of barbed wire, and nine AFVs, including Lend-Lease Valentine and Stuart tanks.
Scenario 116. The Sixth Blow. This is a late-war 8 ½-turn scenario featuring horses upon horses—Soviet horses, German horses, and Hungarian horses. The scenario is complex, but basically it is a fighting withdrawal on the part of the Soviets (which is somewhat strange, as the scenario’s historical description, devoid of tactical detail, depicts a Soviet attack). The Soviets have 8 partisan squads, 12 cavalry squads, and 6 infantry squads, along with 8 AFVs. The Hungarians have 11 cavalry squads, an armored car, and a couple of artillery pieces. The Germans have 6 infantry squads, 6 cavalry squads, and 7 AFVs (including two Panthers). The Russians get air support and off-board rocket artillery.
Scenario 117. With Tigers on their Tail. This 11-turn behemoth of a scenario features late war action between the Hungarians and Soviets in the Carpathian mountains in the summer of 1944. In this action, the Soviets are on the attack against a Hungarian delaying force. To win, the Hungarians, who enter the scenario from the north edge of the map, must exit at least 30 victory points worth of units off the south edge of the map, while making sure that the Soviets exit less. To accomplish this feat, they have 18 elite and first-line squads, well armed, and 10 AFVs, which include two Tiger tanks thoughtfully given to them by the Germans. The Soviets have 22 squads, lightly armed, and nearly as many (21) AFVs. These include 12 T-34s. With so many of the vehicles easily able to kill each other, this looks to be a very bloody scenario. Both sides start the scenario with far, far more than 30 victory points, so it is clear that no matter how many exit, the map will be a bloody graveyard afterwards.
Scenario 118. Downsizing the Uprising. This scenario represents an action from the obscure but fascinating Slovak Uprising of 1944, much less well known than the concurrent Warsaw Uprising, but equally unsuccessful. As the Soviet Army reached the Carpathians, segments of the puppet Slovak Army conspired with pro-Communist Slovak partisans to launch a sudden uprising in the rear of the German front lines. Unfortunately for them, they were poorly organized and only a portion of the Slovak Army joined the uprising; meanwhile, the exhausted Soviets could not break through the German positions in the Carpathians. Scratch German forces slowly strangled, then destroyed, the Uprising within a couple of months. This scenario represents a rare Slovak attack during the Uprising. With 32 squads (12 of them partisans) and three tanks, they must wrest control of a handful of buildings from 20 German squads of mediocre quality, supported by a couple of artillery pieces. They have nine turns in which to do it. This is one of the scenarios I played; I was the defending Germans. I felt stretched very thin, as I had to defend several widely spaced buildings, and did not many troops with which to do it. I wanted to play for time, but with nine turns, the Slovaks don’t have to rush too much. They do have three distinct disadvantages, however. First, the Germans know where the Slovaks have to go; there is no mystery there, so they can make sure they have key buildings well defended. Second, the main Slovak force must cross a lot of open ground (or take a very long way around), and will definitely take casualties. Third, the Slovak partisans are unfortunately a very weak force; even though they have 12 squads, they will be shooting from poor cover at Germans with strong cover, and because they cannot firegroup in multiple hexes, their fire attacks will be weak. As it turned out, the partisans caused me no worries at all and I could concentrate most of my efforts on stopping the other Slovak force—which I did, eking out a victory. However, the scenario seemed balanced and fun.
Scenario 119. Ancient Feud. The Hungarians and Romanians square off against each other in this eight-turn October 1944 scenario. The Romanians are on the attack, leading off with 14 first line squads, two artillery pieces, and two tanks; they are later reinforced by five more AFVs, plsu five halftracks carrying five squads. The Hungarians, however, are no slouch, with 14 elite and first line squads, extremely heavily armed, two anti-tank guns, and nine AFVs. To win, the Romanians must control ten or more stone buildings on the center mapboard. If I had to pick a side, I’d pick the Hungarians.
Scenario 120. Return to Sender. For anybody who ever wanted to play the Bulgarians in World War II, here is their opportunity. This large, 10-turn scenario features Bulgarians on the attack against Germans after they turned on their erstwhile allies in order to avoid fighting the Soviets. A trio of 88mm AA guns anchor the German defense; they also have two light AA guns and 14 heavily armed elite squads with which to protect themselves. The Bulgarians can throw against them 30 squads, reasonably well armed themselves, and nine AFVs (six of them Panzer Mk IVs). To sweeten the deal, the Bulgarians also get some off-board artillery and two fighter-bombers. It looks big and bloody.
Scenario 121. End Station Budapest. The encircled city of Budapest is the scene of this January 1945 scenario featuring Romanian troops, now allied with the Soviets, attacking Hungarian defenders. A lengthy 10 turns, this scenario centers around one key building which the Hungarians control and the Romanians want. To take it, they have 36 (!) elite and first line squads (including some Assault Engineers who have a flamethrower and two demolition charges) and two anti-tank guns. They also have some Panzerfausts. The Hungarian defenders have 18 elite and first line squads, heavily armed, assisted by three relatively light-skinned AFVs. Covering only two urban mapboards, having over 50 total squads, and featuring victory conditions which demand the control of one building, this scenario is likely to have a very high counter density. To me, this is one of the less attractive scenarios featured in the pack and I can’t imagine myself playing it.
Taken collectively, the scenarios are an interesting and eclectic mix. What is noticeably absent from them are low quality Axis-minor troops. While elite and first-line troops appear in every scenario, conscript Axis minor squads are nowhere to be seen. The module is also missing any scenarios depicting Croatian troops. All three of the scenarios I played were quite enjoyable, and several of the others look interesting to me as well. Given the large size of so many of the included scenarios, however, and taking into account my limited time, it is quite possible that much of the use I get out of AOO in the next few years will come from future scenarios that use these counters and maps.
I expected to be disappointed when AOO finally arrived. I had been waiting for it for so long that I felt it could not possibly live up to my expectations. I was delighted to discover that actually AOO is a high quality product in every regard. Though it took forever and a day to finish, there is no doubt that AOO is a box full of goodies. In no way was I dissatisfied with any aspect of AOO (although I would have liked some smaller scenarios). The module is bigger and better than the previous core module, Doomed Battalions. It is a quality product and this reviewer highly recommends it. No ASLer can afford to let this one pass them by.