Alternative Titles/Edition History:
1st Edition (Nordic Twilight), 2011; 2nd Edition (Low Vosges Nightmare), 2016.
Critical Hit (1st Edition, 2014; 2nd Edition, 2016)
Country of Origin:
1st Edition (Nordic Twilight) Contents: 24.5" x 37" historical map, 2 sets of 304 die-cut counters, 11 scenarios, 28-page rules and historical booklet
2nd Edition (Low Vosges Nightmare) Contents: Historical map formed from 4 glossy 12" x 18" unmounted (heavy paper/light cardstock) map panels, 1 unmounted (heavy paper/light cardstock) 12" x 18" non-geomorphic generic board (WB1), 4 pages rules, 736 die-cut counters, 13 scenarios.Commentary:
Nordic Twilight (NT), designed by Larry Winslow and Ray Tapio, is a historical module depicting combat in January 1945 between German and American troops during the abortive German offensive known as Operation Nordwind, focusing on the struggle for the strategic town of Wingen, along the Moder River. The U.S. 70th Infantry Division fought a tough, bitter defensive battle for this town. However, in NT, it is the Waffen SS who are marketed as the stars and the module’s main selling point. The front material for the product hypes the presence of the Waffen SS no less than three times: 1) “SS Mountain troops,” 2) “Waffen SS Engineers in late war camo,” and 3) “Complete OOB for the 6th SS Mountain Division units for all scenarios!” Naturally, the module comes with hordes of black SS counters. Clearly, Critical Hit knew what element of the module it wanted to hype. Meanwhile, the front material misspells the name of the actual military operation (writing “Norwind” instead of “Nordwind”).
The real feature of NT is not its marketing of the SS (more on that below), but rather the historical map. This is a large, attractive map that manages to capture the look and feel of the Wingen-sur-Moder area very nicely. Moreover, the terrain itself is very interesting, as it depicts a small village stretched out in a valley between a railway line and the Moder river. Different parts of the map have different terrain feels to them and a lot of tactical nuances. It is the sort of map that one sees and immediately wants to set up a scenario on. Luckily, the scenarios included in the module (there is no campaign game) use a lot of different areas of the map, so the whole map really can be used by players, unlike the maps of a number of other modules that contain large “dead zones” where no scenarios are set.
The game comes with die-cut counters, accompanied by the usual Critical Hit hype, boasting on the packaging of “six countersheets.” Well, no. Actually, what the consumer gets is two sets of two half-sized and one sixth-sized countersheets. It works out to two sets of would be, in reality, slightly over one full countersheet’s worth of counters (an average full-sized wargame countersheet typically contains from 200-280 counters). The counters are primarily Waffen SS counters; naturally, they are rendered in black so as to capture the attention of the SS aficionado. Additionally, though it is hard to see, given how dark the counters are, the cartoon figures on the counters are draped in SS camouflage, apparently for added attraction. This is actually kind of ironic, because in this battle most of the soldiers probably were wearing winter camouflage suits (and are so depicted in the module’s rules) and would look quite different from their counter depictions.
Some of the SS counters might serve a practical function, as opposed to merely being an enticement, because they are squad types that only appeared in “official” ASL products in the long out-of-print A Bridge Too Far module and thus many ASLers may not own the official versions of those counters. There are also a handful of American counters, which seem like duplicates of existing counters. There are also a few SS “walking wounded” counters and American prisoner counters. In addition, there are some captured American vehicles and SW in SS colors, although even here, Critical Hit inconsistency raises its head. So, for example, there is one counter in SS colors representing a dismantled U.S. 60mm/81mm MTR. However, there is no corresponding “mantled” counter for either type of mortar, making it a perfectly useless counter. There are also a few marker/utility counters in the mix.
The module comes with a 28-page booklet, but only 4 pages of this is rules; the rest is re-printed historical material. The rules are rather light, consisting mostly of explaining the terrain on the map (nothing complicated or special). There are a handful of additional special rules for things like hand to hand combat, captured weapons, etc. Lastly, there are two sets of “optional” rules, for “bayonet charges” and “marching fire.” These rules are lengthy and complicated procedures taken from 1990s era Kinetic Energy publications (who are credited with “inspiring” them) and are totally gratuitous to the module. They were allegedly included to “[make] the Americans more fun to play” and to “[provide] more texture to the Yank on the gaming battlefield.” Whatever.
The module comes with 10 scenarios, plus the typical FREE BONUS SCENARIO to fill up the reverse side of a scenario card. This latter is simply a reprint of an old Critical Hit magazine scenario (CH50, Simmons’ Rebuff), with the VC conditions changed to require 25 or more CVP rather than 24. It has nothing to do with Wingen-sur-Moder.
The 10 real scenarios are a decent mix of small, medium, and large actions, perhaps tending slightly to the smallish. No scenarios employ Night or Air Support rules, but as seems to be typical in Larry Winslow designs, the module is OBA-heavy and 7 of the 10 scenarios have OBA. This is a high percentage, considering that a number of ASLers are not really that crazy about OBA, for various reasons. The scenarios typically have only a moderate number of SSRs, and these are mostly standard SSRs to establish the weather, provide OBA, etc. Winter weather of various sorts is present in every scenario (not surprisingly).
A number of scenarios look interesting. NT#1 (Dawn Attack) depicts the initial German capture of Wingen-sur-Moden, with a dozen or so SS squads attacking a group of sleepy Americans; both sides get to funnel reinforcements in the battle for the town. NT#4 (Jumbo Time), depicting one of the first American counterattacks, features a rarely used American AFV, the Sherman “Jumbo” with its 18-strength frontal armor. However, the scenario is less exciting than it might seem, because the Germans have no armor assets of their own in the scenario, only PSK and PF. NT#8 (The 781st Tries Again), sort of a sequel, once more employs some Jumbos, but at least here the Germans get one AFV, a captured American tank destroyer.
NT#7 (Back to Wingen) depicts a different, and more meaty, American counterattack, on another part of the map; here the attacking Americans have to cross a frigid river and fight their way into or through the southeast portion of the map. With the possibility of immediate victory conditions, the Germans have to be careful.
The big scenario, though, the one that uses the entire map (and serves as the module’s substitute for a campaign game), is NT#9 (Wingen-sur-Moder), designed by Dave Lamb and Larry Winslow. This 16-turn scenario represents the see-saw fighting that occurred on January 6, 1945. In this large scenario, the Waffen SS have around 54 squads of various types, a few negligible vehicles, and some Gun options. The Americans get to play with a bit over 70 squads (though many of them are 2nd line or even Green), about a dozen tanks (including the vaunted Jumbos), and various halftracks and jeeps. They also get four varying modules of OBA.
Once one gets past the SS marketing efforts, Nordic Twilight actually seems to be a nice little module. The scenarios are simple and straightforward, the terrain is interesting, and it looks like it could be fun.
2nd Edition (Low Vosges Nightmare) Comments: In 2016, Critical Hit released a new version of this product, renamed Low Vosges Nightmare and containing substantial changes from the original edition–some good and some bad. The rules and scenarios remained substantially the same, though the historical content was dropped, but the map and counters were drastically revised and there is different “bonus” material.
The Low Vosges Nightmare (LVM) map now consists of 4 12″ x 18″ glossy unmounted (heavy paper/light cardstock) map panels, which must be mated together to form the playing area. While the glossy map panels reflect glare and are a little irritating to assemble, in most Critical Hit maps the glossy map panels result in brighter colors and a better overall look. Here that affect is considerably muted because the LVN map colors are themselves muted, consisting largely of shades of gray and green. This is in large part due to the fact that the LVM map has been perfunctorily “winterized,” i.e., has artwork intended to reflect a snow-covered battlefield. Unfortunately, the LVN winterization is fairly rudimentary and consists of not much more than changing the colors of the different elevation levels to shades of gray–and a bit dark at that. The result is a map that is not as vibrant or bright as it might have been.
Over the past 20_ years, the general arc of Critical Hit graphics capabilities has tended upward, with occasional dips and depressions. In some respects, LVN reflects one of those depressions, its artwork being poorer than that of the original edition in a couple of respects, most notably in its depiction of buildings. Whereas the original map had a nice set of building graphics, including some buildings with considerable detail, the same cannot be said for the buildings in LVN, which are generally constructed from a hodgepodge of basic square- and rectangular-shaped buildings. Large buildings on the map are, unlike the original, not actually drawings of large buildings, but smaller building graphics jammed together crudely. This makes a number of the LVN buildings more crude looking than their counterparts from the original edition. Moreover, quite a few of the LVN buildings suffer from a problem that has plagued Critical Hit for several years now: jagged bitmaps that give buildings a crude, pixelated look. However, the river is depicted with more detail. Still, the overall result is that LVN’s depiction of the town of Wingen-sur-Moder is probably inferior to that of the original module.
LVN also has significant differences in terms of its counters. First, LVN comes with a very different countermix than the original product. It contains two sheets of 1/2″ counters (560 total) and two half-sheets of 5/8″ counters (176 total). The vast majority of these are not new counters but are duplicates of counters that already exist in the system. The countersheets seem to be generic countersheets, too, rather than specifically tailored to the needs of LVN. Thus, for example, one of the 5/8″ countersheets contains five U.S. M4 Sherman Dozer tanks. Needless to say, not a single scenario in this product requires even a single Dozer. What is more, the product is missing counters that are required. For example, three scenarios utilize U.S. M4E3F2 “Jumbo” Shermans.
Does this even matter? Though it might be irritating, cannot players dip into their own collections of ASL counters for the missing counters? Well, they can, but here’s the rub: the LVN counters are not standard-colored counters. In other words, contrary to the counter images depicted on the front of the product, showing a black Waffen SS counter and a bright green American color, the actual countersheets are colored a dark Olive Drab for the Americans and a light grayish color that Critical Hit mistakenly calls “Feldgrau.” This means that if players do dip into their official ASL counters, they will be playing with two very different colors of Americans and two very different colors of Germans. For any player, this would be irritating, for the many anal retentive ASL players out there, this would be their “Low Vosges Nightmare.”
Do you feel like making matters worse? Let’s make matters worse. LVN is a module featuring the Waffen SS. However, none of the German counters are Waffen SS counters. They are all German Army counters. Of 6-5-8 squads there is nary a sign. The marketing copy claims that the module includes “a brand new 280 ½” Winter 6th SS Mountain Division sheet,” but this is not true. Either there was never such a sheet or this product was shipped with incorrect countersheets. Whatever the reason, the result is that these gray-colored non-SS German counters are virtually useless in this product.
In an attempt to discover if this issue was simply a collating error in the copy purchased for review purposes or if this was a problem for all copies of this product, Desperation Morale gritted its teeth and contacted Critical Hit. After several exchanges, in which the contactees were oddly reluctant to provide straightforward answers to s questions, it is simply not clear what specific countersheets purchasers were or were not intended to receive. Some of their answers seem to suggest that it was a packing/collating error that resulted in the lack of Waffen SS counters in the copy purchased for review, so it is possible other purchasers may not have this same problem. The exchange was also unable to resolve the question of whether the components of Critical Hit products are now individually assembled upon receipt of an order or (like most companies) collated all at once or in large batches.
The one good thing about the gray German counters not being usable is that they fade into the similarly gray-colored map, so they might not be missed. Indeed, the Olive Drab Americans also fade into the green portions of the map. One last little criticism: the die-cutting of the 5/8″ counters is not good. It seems that Critical Hit may need new counter dies.
LVN also comes with “bonus material,” which consists of a winterized 12″ x 18″ non-geomorphic generic map (WB1) and three scenarios that play on it. Such bonus materials are almost always retreads of previously published scenarios and that seems to be the case here. BN1 (Bardenburg Block) is simply a re-do of CH50 (Simmons’ Rebuff) from Critical Hit Magazine #4. BN3 (Knocking on Neuhof) is actually an attempt to ape a scenario published by a different company, Kinetic Energy, scenario TOT2 (First Attack) from Time on Target #1. The third scenario, BN2 (Buchholz Surprise) is set at the same place at the same time and with the same formations as the old converted Squad Leader scenario I (Buchholz Station) that appears in ASL Classic, but there are many differences between the two scenarios, so the provenance of BN2 is not clear.
Franklin Gale says
It’s often unclear in corresponding or speaking with Critical Hit whether they hate their customers or just questions from them.
That made for painful reading. I think of Critical Hit and shake my head in despair. I have given them so many chances.