Alternative Titles/Edition History:
1st Edition, 2010; 2nd Edition (Berlin: Führer's End), 2014
Critical Hit (1st Edition, 2010; 2nd Edition, 2014)
Country of Origin:
1st Edition: 2 30" x 22" historical maps, 15 scenarios, 32-page rulebook, 4 play aids (map enlargements of key areas), 1 counter identification aid, 312 die-cut counters (2 sets of 156), 2 new Platoon Leader campaign games (i.e., in addition to the 2 that appeared in Berlin: Fall of the Third Reich).
When first released, this module was also available (for an additional $10) in a format that included countersheets from the first Berlin module (which are needed to play some of the scenarios in Tyrant's Lair).
2nd Edition (Berlin: Führer's End): 15 12" x 18" heavy paper/light cardstock glossy map panels, 17 scenarios, 4 pages rules, 1 sheet of play aidsCommentary:
Tyrant’s Lair (TL) is the sequel to Berlin: Fall of the Third Reich (FOTR), a historical module released by Critical Hit in 2006. Like its predecessor, this module covers fighting in downtown Berlin at the end of April 1945; the battles here center around the Reich Chancellery and Hitler’s bunker. The two TL maps link up perpendicularly to the FOTR maps to form a large “L.” However, connections between the two modules are limited. Though they share the same rules, only one scenario from TL uses FOTR maps. However, several TL scenarios require unit counters that only appear in FOTR, so ownership of that product is necessary to play some of the scenarios (unless purchased with the FOTR countersheets, as mentioned above under contents). The TL rulebook is intended for both modules and essentially constitutes a new edition (4th?). One of its campaign games uses the maps from both modules.
The real appeal of a module like TL is to be able to use the historical map, and the map in TL is excellent, perhaps the best that Critical Hit has done. Though his name does not appear in the credits, the map artist is reportedly Charlie Kibler, designer of the original Red Barricades. The level of detail is very impressive. The map artwork is superior to that in FOTR, which itself was not bad artwork. Of course, that very fact also points out that the artwork in TL is different from the artwork in FOTR, even though the two modules mate. Though Kibler clearly patterned his own artwork after that of the original module, there is more detail, the graphics are somewhat different, as are some of the colors, and there are typographic differences as well. This has no effect on play, or any effect at all on scenarios that use only the TL maps, but put them together and it is clear that they are not the same style.
Still, regardless of style comparisons, players can now contend over famous (or infamous) buildings such as the Reich Chancellery or the Air Ministry, as well as places such as the Wertheim Department Store and the Excelsior Hotel. Play on the TL map has the potential to have a somewhat different feel as play on the FOTR map, as there are far fewer water obstacles, but also less open ground.
The counters provided in TL consist of two identical sets of two small countersheets. For the most part, the counters duplicate ones already in the ASL system, such as additional 6-2-8 Soviet squads and 6-5-8 SS squads, as well as a bevy of Soviet AFVs. Bizarrely, Critical Hit seems to have included none of the new counters that appeared in FOTR which are required to play some of the TL scenarios, such as 4-2-7 Hitler Youth MMC. This means that players must purchase or own FOTR in order to play some of the scenarios that are included in TL. The counters are typical for CH counters of this period; small cramped fonts; okay artwork, and awful layout, especially for the AFVs, which cannot be understood without a degree of some sort.
The rules to TL, which are the FOTR rules plus some extra rules for terrain that appears only on the TL map, are complex. Berlin in 1945 is not the simplest sort of terrain to represent at the tactical level, and some of the rules are detailed. It was partially for this reason that a number of errata and clarifications had to be issued to FOTR, resulting in several different rulebooks over the past several years. Hopefully, the TL rulebook will have had all these issues straightened out. For those unfamiliar with FOTR, that module introduces rules for new units that include SS leaders, SS tank hunter teams, Red Banner infantry, Soviet liberated prisoners, Gestapo infantry, Hitler Youth Infantry, and Nazi political leaders. Additional rules represent subways and underground rail lines, on-board rockets, flooded trenches, coal piles, the infamous Zoo Flak towers, and much else. To these, TL adds rules for concrete buildings, the Reich Chancellery, Hitler’s bunker, bridge debris, and more.
TL adds two additional campaign games. B3R CG 3 (In the Ruins of the Reich) is a 5 campaign date CG that uses only the map from FOTR. It is unusual in that the main objective for the Germans is to exit German civilians off the map; very different from typical campaign game victory conditions. B3R CG 4 (The Downfall) is a 9 campaign date CG that uses the entirety of the FOTR and TL mapsets and essentially represents the entire battle for the heart of Berlin. One interesting aspect of FOTR and TL campaign games is that they allow the German to purchase “optional” reinforcement groups that represent units drawn from other parts of the Battle for Berlin; the catch is that doing so causes the possibility of a Soviet breakthrough on one of those other sectors. A breakthrough causes an entry area to become Soviet controlled and the Soviets are given units to enter from this area.
TL contains 15 scenarios with a good mix of sizes. About half are small or medium in size, and the remaining half are large in size. Six scenarios use OBA, while one scenario uses the Night rules and another uses a simplified set of Night rules. Most of the scenarios use a small portion of the TL map area; one of them, TL6 (Breaking Berlin), utilizes the entire TL map. This is the second largest scenario in the module and features a major Soviet attack from a bridgehead across the Landwehr Kanal. It features 50 Soviet squads, 29 AFVs, and 17 Guns attacking 49 Germans squads, 13 AFVs (including 2 King Tigers) and 3 Guns.
Of course, that’s the second largest scenario in the module. The largest scenario is TL12 (The Downfall), which is a massive scenario that takes place on the combined FOTR/TL mapsets. With 56 turns, it is essentially a campaign game in scenario form. The superlarge scenario is something that Critical Hit previously tended to offer in lieu of a campaign game, which was disappointing to aficionados of that form, but TL includes both campaign games and a superlarge scenario, so one can have one’s cake and eat it, too. The scenario takes place over the course of 3 days and two nights; a weekend getaway to hell. Each 24-hour day essentially consists of 13 daylight turns, 3 twilight turns, and 6 night turns, so each turn represents roughly an hour of real time (a bit over that for the night turns). The night turns are not represented by the full night rules, but rather only by a +3 LV Hindrance, which can be mitigated by starshells and illumination rounds.
To win, the Soviets essentially need to take the bulk of Berlin, or at least all its important stuff. They have a lot of forces with which to do so. The Soviets have around 169 squads, 72 AFVs and 31 Guns, plus lots of OBA. The defending Germans have about 163 squads, 21 AFVs, and 17 Guns, plus the deadly Flak towers. Is it balanced? Who knows? By the time it is over, players will feel as if they actually did fight the battle. One plays a superlarge scenario like this for the experience, not the outcome.
Overall, TL looks as if it has a lot to offer, from a variety of scenarios of different sizes to campaign games. The map is attractive and interesting, and one does get a good atmosphere of “Berlin 1945” from the module. A nice effort.
2011 Update: In late 2010, Critical Hit released Kursk: Devil’s Domain, another historical module. It contains new counters for B IV demolition AFVs as well as revised rules for their operation, that can also be used for TL. Additionally, the product contains a small number of new counters for owners of CH’s Berlin modules, as well as (in some cases) new or revised rules for their use. These include counters for the Borgward B IV 88mm PSK Raketenpanzerbuchse 54, for the Pantherturm/Pazerturm, for the Berlin Zoo Flak Tower, and for the 30cm Wurfkorper M FL50. As the counters are all in CH’s “new style,” they are far superior in layout than the counters appearing in the original modules.
2nd Edition (Berlin: Führer’s End) Comments: Critical Hit’s business model is substantially based on constantly recycling and reissuing its older products. Thus it was no surprise that in 2014 Critical Hit came out with new editions of its Berlin historical modules. What was originally Berlin: Fall of the Third Reich, then later Berlin: Final Days, is now Berlin: Final Victory. This product, originally dubbed Tyrant’s Lair, is now called Berlin: Führer’s End (BFE). Critical Hit also made both of these modules available in a combined product dubbed Berlin Über Monster; it simply combines the contents of the two separate products with no additional components.
The two Berlin modules have been among Critical Hit’s more popular products, so it perhaps is not too surprising that Critical Hit would choose to give them a treatment different than other products released during the same reprint cycle in 2014. What Critical Hit did with BFE and Berlin: Final Victory (BFV) was to release them in a “monster-sized” edition–i.e., with an enlarged map. The BFE map is thus substantially larger in size than its previous iterations, with huge hexes that, while not quite reaching DASL size, are in the same ballpark (hexes are about 1 1/2″ across). Fans of large hexes will be much appreciative, while people who do not have an extremely large play area will be quite disappointed. The earlier editions, with their smaller hexes, already took up a lot of table space; the new edition takes up quite a bit more.
The artwork used for BFE is essentially the same artwork used in the previous version, with relatively minor changes. It is overall very solid artwork and holds up well to scrutiny even with the expanded hex size. Woods are unattractive, but they are few in number. There are a few minor issues, such as the occasional road border, which also become apparent with large size hexes, but they are of such a minor nature that they are not worth bringing up. Otherwise, the artwork is crisp and clean and detailed. While representing an area adjacent to the part of Berlin represented in BFV, the Berlin of BFE has a different feel to it, as the terrain is much more building-dense and also has much more war damage.
The artwork is also brighter than in previous editions, which seems to be caused in part by some color shifts, but also because the map is printed not on a large sheet of paper but on a large number of 12″ x 18″ heavy paper/light cardstock glossy map panels. These 15 panels have to be fitted together to create the map in BFV. The good thing about the map panels is that they allow for bright, crisp graphics (though, because they are glossy, one has to worry about glare).
The bad thing is that it is a pain in the neck to fit these boards together and to keep them fitted together. One will need to position them all precisely, then fasten them down or put them all under plexiglass (a lot of plexiglass). Generally speaking, up to 4 map panels isn’t too bad, but BFE comes with almost four times that many! A number of ASLers, even Critical Hit fans (yes, some exist) have said that they won’t be getting BFE because of the unwieldiness and inconvenience of the map panels. One can only imagine combining the 18 map panels of BFV with the 15 map panels of Berlin: Führer’s End.
Now, it should be noted that, in practice, the inconvenience may be somewhat less, because the scenarios do not use the whole map area. BFE comes with 17 scenarios, two more than the previous edition. Of them, only a few use the map area or a large portion of it. Most of the scenarios use only a very small to small portion of the map. This fact makes using the map panels easier, though it also means that players have a very limited ability to fight over large portions of the map.
The scenarios themselves are drawn from the previous edition. All are marked “Ver. 2.0” and the rulebook claims that all known errata has been added. The quality of the scenario cards is better than that of previous editions, with the cards now even using some color.
The scenarios are a pretty even mix of small, medium, and large scenarios, which makes them overall a bit less meaty than the scenarios of BFV. A couple of scenarios are extra large in size, including a supermassive scenario (see below) that combines BFV and BFE. No scenarios use Air rules, while 7 scenarios use OBA. One scenario uses a “lite” version of the Night rules. Critical Hit has long since decided not to publish scenarios that utilize the whole set of night rules. The supermassive scenario in BFE, even though it spans several days, does not use the Night rules at all; essentially, a heavy LV hindrance penalty is applied instead. The Soviets are the attackers in all but one of the scenarios.
In most of these scenarios, the counter density is typically not going to be so great as to actually really require extra large hexes–the hexes are large pretty much simply for those people who like large hexes period.
The gargantuan scenario is BII-12 (The Downfall), which uses all of the map panels of BFV and BFE (an impressive sight). Essentially, this is the Soviet capture of the heart of Berlin. At 56 turns long, it spans a few days and involves massive forces (7 pages worth):
When it comes to meaty play, many ASLers prefer the campaign game. The campaign games from older versions of the module are simply nowhere to be seen, which is certainly disappointing. Oddly, though the campaign games are absent, the rules regularly refer to them as if they were present.
The rules themselves are only 4 pages in length and describe some of the features that appear on the map. What the product doesn’t explicitly say, however, is that one ALSO needs the 18 pages of rules from Berlin: Final Victory in order to play the scenarios of BFE. Obviously it would have been much better to have a single rulebook used in both games. Actually, these are “advanced” modules that require players to absorb a lot of additional rules. The rules are printed as loose-leaf pages, hole-punched for inclusions in three-ring binders. They are in full color and are quite attractive.
In addition to lacking the rules of BFV, BFE also lacks any counters–even though a great many special counters are required for play. Instead, players are directed to use the counters from the previous edition of this module, or to purchase a set of Berlin counters separately from Critical Hit (at a cost of $50 for a mere six sheets of counters!!).
BFE itself costs $79.95, so when one adds in another $50 for counters, this is quite an expensive game. And, while it has an attractive and large (though unwieldy) map, it contains no campaign games. It would seem that in many respects the previous edition of the module might actually be a better purchase than BFE. BFE is recommended primarily for those people who have a huge man-crush on large hexes.
(it should also be noted that, as of this writing, players should NOT buy the combined Über edition. The two modules are currently selling for $79.95 each, but the combined edition is selling for GREATER than the sum of the two modules, at $179.95! In other words, if you buy them as one product, you lose money).