Television is rather a frightening business. But I get all the relaxation I want from my collection of model soldiers.
Peter Cushing

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Where the Iron Crosses Grow

I recently mentioned that I'd purchased a copy of Iron Cross to use to help my Year 10 students with their GCSE History coursework. Last night I had my first test game.

So first an outline of the rules and a mini-review seem to be in order.

Iron Cross is a scale agnostic game primarily designed for Late War Western Europe based on the Orbats included in the book, though other theatres are covered by free lists from the website. The book is £12, full colour and lavishly illustrated - including hits and tips from a couple of Hollywood greats.

I ordered the £30 set that came with tokens and I'm very glad I did - the use of tokens is key to the way the game played so having easy to use ones made life much easier.

Gameplay is very simple; there are no ranges except for things such as PIATs and Panzerfausts. If you can see it, you can shoot it. This is elegant as it makes the use of terrain and movement key, exactly as it was in Western Europe. All die rolls are made on a 1d10 or 1d6 and the core mechanics are pretty simple to grasp; taking incoming fire effects your morale and when a unit's morale is depleted they bolt. Again, this is an accurate representation of the historical reality, especially when Units can fall back and attempt to regroup - in effect 'healing'; so it becomes a question for the commander of whether to press an attack or whether to try to preserve your troops. Troops have their combat effectiveness degraded as their morale suffers.

As you can see, the core of the game lies in that holy grail of game design, choice; making the player weigh up risk versus reward and Iron Cross handles this better than almost any other wargame I've played recently due to the way it handles initiative. Rather than a traditional IGOUGO mechanic, the player has a number of command tokens. Each one of these can be spent to activate a unit on your turn - you can try to activate a unit more than once, but this gets more difficult the more you ask of your units and the worse their morale is. The genius stroke is that the player whose turn it is not can spend a token to interrupt.So it goes like this:

"I'll activate these GIs and they're going to move and shoot but running across the road then shooting the grenadiers behind the barn."

"Yeah, I'm going to spend and activate my machine gun team who are going to shoot them as they cross the road."

So when it's the other player's turn you are constantly weighing up whether you want to react or not; likewise, when it's your turn you are constantly trying to weigh up how to work around the enemy. And you can't interrupt every action - because if you spend all your tokens, when the active player passes the turn over to you, you'll have no tokens left to do anything. And as the active player you're always trying to decide when the best moment to end your turn is to ensure that you have some tokens left to react to the enemy's actions.

This makes for an incredibly fluid and fast moving game with feints, probing attacks, use of terrain; it's a good simulation of mobile warfare and, more importantly, a great piece of game design.

My only concern is that some of the rules in the book are not written as clearly as I would like; for example, I'm still not sure if an infantry unit firing on tank inflicts a morale marker. I think it does but the rules don't specifically state it does; and whether it does or not makes a huge difference to how infantry deal with armour.

These things can be houseruled, of course, but it's just one of those things companies want to look at  - proofing for aspects other than errors. I think I'm right in saying that Magic: The Gathering and FFG for X-Wings have lawyers read their rules to check for clarity and reduce misunderstanding.

So how did it play?

Really well.

We set up a very simple edge of a village in Normandy with a mixture of terrain types. Three objectives - the truck was worth two as it had the Lost Ark of the Covenant in it - and two equal sides of 360 points. The US side was armour with two infantry units and the German side was infantry with two STuG III in support. The interesting twist here is that because the Germans had more units, they had more command tokens and thus the player - not me - had more options in making decisions.

Seems legit.

Here you can see the importance of using cover

Notice the wrecked tanks in the background

This is more or less the situation at the end of the game. In case you're wondering what the outcome was, look at the title of the blog. 

The game is sound and I will be using it again for fun - and I'll definitely be using it with the students. Highly recommended.

 Stay tuned for an update tomorrow on the new fantasy project.


  1. I've been wondering about this game...and your review makes it sound very tempting. Does it cater for infantry only games as well or do you need a mix? And does it scale up and down well?

  2. It would work well infantry only , I think- it's designed around units and, I. Morale terms, a panzer and a squad of GI can take the same number of hits. We played that game in less than two hour with both of us learning the rules as we go so I can see it easily scaling up to 2000 points for an evenings game. The only issue there would be, I think, keeping track of the whole thing Your head.

    1. Cool. Thanks! Another game added to the 'to-buy' list!