Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Unboxing: Against the Odds Magazine Annual 2021 (ATO)

Unboxing is a loose term, in this case.

Recently arrived in the mail is my copy of Against the Odds Magazine Annual 2021, Operation Roundup: The Allies Invade France in 1943. For those not in the know, Against the Odds (from here on, ATO) has produced a semi-regular military history/wargame magazine since around 2002, with each issue containing a full wargame with mounted counters and rules. The ATO Annuals are known for their questionable year labels (ATO Annual 2021 was literally just released within the last week or so), but also for including a bit more with the game. Sometimes this is more than one game, sometimes it's a slightly larger game. Either way, ATO Magazine games tend to be lesser-covered topics, with a theme of one of the forces fighting 'against the odds'.

I've been a subscriber for quite some time, and have enjoyed every issue that I've received (I haven't played every game, but a few have made the table - take for examples, a session report here and various pictures on BGG of my game experiences).  This one is proving to be just as enjoyable a package as any.

Opening my mailer, I was presented with a nice bagged up package:

Pulling things out, I started with the set of mini games on top, the full set of the Five for Fighting series with mounted counters:

I have played three of these five games (they all use the same system), and I think they have some issues, but actually make for a good introductory wargame. There is also a combined game called Tuesday, The F├╝hrer Slept Late that has better reviews than the individual games (not included with this issue). Anyway, as I already have these and the mounted counters, I will probably look for an opportunity to give these away.

Moving on, the magazine itself has a striking cover:

A painting of the USS Emmons at Normandy, painted by Dwight Shepler.

Inside the issue, we have our Table of Contents:

Issues of ATO magazine have a variety of articles related to military history, with the cover topic the focus of the largest article and game in the magazine, usually another article or two somewhat related to the cover topic, and then a few articles about unrelated topics. This is similar to what is done by other magazine game publishers, so no real surprise to anyone with experience here.

I won't delve too much into the historical articles (buy the issue if you are interested!). I learned quite a lot from all of these articles, as I always do from ATO issues. However, I will make a few comments on specific articles:

Push to the Sea! is not a historical article, but rather a scenario for the Five for Fighting series shown at the beginning, using the Sword and Juno postcards. It focuses on the 21st Panzer Division, and provides a variant combat rule where you use a die to resolve combat instead of a card draw (I very much like this change, as it solves a complaint I had with the original games).

Maneuvering to War is about the Louisiana and Carolina Maneuvers prior to our entry into WWII (read more about the former here). I knew nothing about this until reading this article, very interesting!

Operation Wolf Hunt seems to be an article covering the hypothetical progress and aftermath for the game A Cornered Wolf included in this issue. It feels a little out of place.

Widening the GIUK! provides expansion rules for a recent ATO Pocket Battle Game release, Mind the GIUK! I thought I had all of these, but I am pretty sure I don't have this one. It is a recent release, so I must have missed it somehow. Anyway, it adds rules for air units and commandos, which are on the mounted countersheet for the game, should you have that, and a random events table.

Spandau Ballet provides additional rules for The Cruelest Month, the game in ATO's 2020 Annual. The counters are on that counter sheet, but have rules included in this issue, which includes a variant British squadron, Balloon Units, and additional ground units. The game seems well regarded, and more options are always better, so seems like a win.

Okay, onto the games. This issue comes with two, and a full expansion for another game.

First, we have the cover game, Operation Roundup.

Fourteen pages of rules, a map, and 176 counters.  Designed by Ty Bomba and developed by Russ Lockwood.

A quick look over the rules shows a pretty interesting game with pretty standard rules. A few things I noticed are that the German reinforcements for the game are determined randomly at the start of the game, so sitting down and beginning, you don't know exactly what you are going to get (you'll know most of them, but additional Luftwaffe support and forces from the Russian front may or may not come). Notable also is that the victory conditions are tied to which reinforcements you are allowed to have during the game. If you are provided more reinforcements, you will need to have more significant battlefield successes in order to win. Makes sense, and may provide a bit of additional replay in this game.

There are also quite a number (twenty) of optional rules to make each game unique.

Second game is "A Cornered Wolf", a game covering a hypothetical air assault on Hitler's military headquarters in Rastenburg. Designed by Paul Rohrbaugh and developed by Steve Rawling, it comes with a map and 80 counters.

The game seems pretty simple, although it does use Paul Rohrbaugh's typical card deck for activations and combat, which isn't something I love- it leads to too many situations where a defending player may throw useless attacks out to trigger the turn end, and in an 8 turn game, that can really disrupt the balance. To be fair, this is a complaint I have about Combat Commander, too, not just Paul's designs.

The German player is trying to escort Hitler out of the bunker while fighting off the Soviets. The Soviets are trying to kill or capture Hitler (and other VIPs), but can also score points by going to specific sites on the map and looting intelligence. You want high cards for some things, low cards for other things, and you will use die rolls to resolve yet other things. That seems a little all over the place to me... but maybe actually playing the game would reveal that the design is perfectly good as is. Will have to play and see.

Two scenarios are included, one each for a July and August attack, with different levels of preparation for each side.

Finally, we have a new scenario for Arctic Disaster titled Immer Voran! The game Arctic Disaster comes in ATO issue 47. We also get a whole bunch of addenda counters, plus counters to play the new scenario, where you are trying to trap and destroy the Scharnhorst.

Unfortunately, although I do own this game, I have not played it yet. It has decent reviews, so I hope to get to it sometime in the future.

So, there you have it. It's a nice package, with plenty of content to keep you occupied, and multiple new games to try out. Go pick it up, read, learn, and play some games!

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