Designed by Jeff & Mike Billings
Is it a Miniatures Game? Or is it a Boardgame! Is it a Boardgame? Or is it a Miniatures Game! Which one is it? Read on and we will try to straighten out your confusion.
From the early 1960’s (and I am sure even before that if you count chess) game designers were trying to design tactical level miniatures games, sometimes called skirmish games. These games put the player in the position of a Squad Leader and he had to maneuver his troops to kill the enemy and capture some terrain feature. Some of these game rules were relatively simple while others where quite complex. The design often reflected not only the designers’ personality, but the historical period in which the game was based.
Also in the 1960’s, this upstart hobby of Boardgaming started to catch on. This was (as you are totally aware) a design in which cardboard counters and a paper map were employed. The map showed the terrain of a certain location and here again, players were encouraged to behave like squad leaders and maneuver their troops to eliminate the enemy and capture some terrain feature. However, these early tactical level boardgames did leave a lot to be desired.
Then, in the 1970’s a new generation of miniatures rules and boardgame designs were introduced. A number of these took a new design approach at the tactical level game and with that you began to see how complex it could be to simulate this type of combat. There were a few games that were published by Simulations Publications Inc. during this period. However, the one game that was to have the most profound effect on the hobby with regards to tactical level squad based games was designed by John Hill and sold by Avalon Hill and was called Squad Leader. This game was so far ahead of its competition that it became the standard by which every other tactical level game was measured.
Now, since the 70’s, Squad Leader has been constantly improved (every few years) until today there is Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) where the rules are sold in a 3 ring binder jam packed with paper. Also, there are so many expansions to this game system, that I can’t even begin to count them.
Well that covers the Boardgaming but what about the miniature games? The industry didn’t stand still here either. Every year new rule sets were introduced sometimes complex, sometimes not. Here, gamers would purchase their favorite miniatures, lay out the terrain on a table and have at it. However, the one thing I can say is that miniature rules sets in no way lagged behind their boardgame cousins. As a matter of fact, sometimes you will see gamers playing a miniatures version of ASL or its gaming cousin Flames of War (FOW), both of which are quite complex.
Into this mix of boardgaming and miniature gaming rule sets arrives the Sergeants Miniatures Game (SMG). It is Card Driven Action Oriented miniatures game that is played on a supplied geomorphic mapboard. So, I would call this a fusion game or a miniatures boardgame.
The physical components in SMG are quite impressive. You receive in your box a set of geomorphic map pieces that consists of 2 double sided 10 inch map pieces called Landmarks, 16 double sided 5 inch map pieces and enough boarder pieces to go around the map you build. The quality of these map pieces are excellent as they are very sturdy and the pieces fit together nicely.
You also receive 64 heavy duty Story Cards from which players will create their story deck. This story deck serves two purposes which is to regulate the Action and introduce some type of random event. The remaining cards are what I would call the specialty cards that come with each miniature of the game. These cards incorporate that soldier’s skills, abilities and personalities into the game.
The final item we will look at are the miniatures themselves. These are 20mm painted minis that are quite nice and really enhance the game. The detail on the miniatures is nicely done and the painting is above average. In the core game you receive a total of 8 miniatures to get you started. After this, there are a number of expansion packages that you can purchase to extend the game with new miniatures or just by swapping out one miniature with another from a scenario that you have already played. Overall, the physical quality of the SMG components is excellent and gamer’s will not be disappointed as they are given a nice large box in which they can store all these items.
What you receive in your slip case box are the following items:
- 8 pre-painted figures, for Sergeants, Privates, and “Characters”
- 128 coated playing cards
- 18 tiles for terrain and landmarks, which can make a mapboard 20″ by 30″ large, or be put together in smaller configurations.
- Rules, plastic movement/sighting player aids, and everything you need to get started!
In this area, I’ll start with a bit of a negative and then progress to a nice positive. If you purchased this game when it first came out, you might have been a bit disappointed with the version 1.0 rules for the game. They were quite difficult to understand and unless you had someone to take you through the system, it was hit or miss if you were able to understand what you were doing.
Well, Lost Battalion Games immediately recognized this deficiency and soon released version 1.5 of the rules which were a tremendous improvement over the 1.0 version. Additionally, I have just located version 1.72 of the rules which are even more impressive as they clear up a lot of questions and make it even easier for the gamer to pick up the game system. With the release of the 1.5 rules they also included a Quick Start Guide which includes a walk through for the first two turns of Scenario 1. Now, if a gamer has any questions concerning how the game is played, they can setup scenario 1 and just follow the example, when combined with ver. 1.72 of the rules which should clear up any cloudy issues. To locate the version 1.72 rules all you need to do is google “Sergeants Miniatures Game Rules”.
The SMG map consists of either 5 or 10 inch squares. Each square has different terrain displayed. However, the pieces are totally geomorphic which means they can be configured into many different types of maps.
When a unit is shooting, sighting or hiding, the unit in question must check the distance between himself and the target unit. In SMG the map squares are used to count the long distances and when the action gets close, measurements change to inches. Typically, the 5 inch squares count as 1 and the 10 inch squares count as 2 and when you are checking for close range it is inches. At this point when you are trying to determine the distance, you lay a ruler on the map and draw an imaginary line between the soldiers involved. If the target unit is within that range of squares or inches it is in sight.
Order and Character Cards
There are 4 types of cards used in the game. There are the Orders Cards, the Action Cards, the Character Cards and the Story Cards. It is around these cards that the game and Story of SMG revolves. Below is a sample of the cards that are used in SMG.
Sequence of Play
The Sequence of Play in SMG may sound a bit complicated, but in reality is straightforward and will become second nature in a very short period of time. The entire basis of the game is centered on the cards, either the Action Cards, Story Cards or the Character Cards.
Each player selects Order Cards as per the Scenario chosen. The remaining parts of the Sequence are as follows;
First, you reveal the top three Phase Cards from the Story Deck and place them in the order drawn on the Phase Panels, 1, 2, 3 of the map.
Players draw Action Cards (those are the ones that come with the soldiers) equal to the Base draw of the scenario Draw Cards value or the default value specified in the rules. If there are any additional Action Cards to draw, that value will be found in the LOOK box of their Character cards.
Resolve any events that are triggered by the Cause and Effect chain in the order occurred which is on the Story Cards.
Determine player Initiative.
Players place Action Cards on their sequence panel, face down, to match either of the actions on the corresponding Phase Card.
Players resolve the Action Cards played in step 5 in the order displayed on the Phase Cards (left to right).
Discard all remaining cards in your hand.
As you can see, this is a simple and straightforward sequence that provides players with a challenging game while at the same time telling the players a story.
Movement, Sighting and Combat
Being that this is a card driven game these three items, Movement, Sighting and Combat are intertwined right into the fabric of the game. Referring to the Sequence of Play above, one of the first things you do is to turn over the first 3 cards of the Story Deck which become the phases of a turn. At the bottom of these cards there is a Story that can be triggered if the stories match. So for example, if there is a Terrain on the first card and a Terrain on the second card, players must follow the story and complete the action presented that is on the second card. The first card can be thought of as the “cause card” and if it matches the next card (first to second or second to third) that is the effect. This creates all types of possibilities in the game where and it is almost impossible for two games to ever be the same.
After you select your action cards you place them 1,2,3 in conjunction with the Phase Cards. You will match up the Action card from the cards in your hand and match it with the Phase card that is on the board. This should immediately tell you that each game turn consists of three phases and that during a turns phase, a soldier can Hide, Look Move or Shoot. It is the order in which these cards are placed that dictates the actions and events that will unfold in the game.
As an example of playing the cards, let’s say the Story/Phase cards and Action cards played were Move, Look, and Shoot. As far as the story line of the game is concerned, if you didn’t have any cause and effect action, a unit or units would move, look to see if any enemy were spotted, and then shoot at the enemy. That would be the three phases of a turn with play alternating between players during each phase.
Also, every terrain piece has modifiers printed on their pieces that can affect the Hide, Look, Move or Shoot action. In our case, let’s say that when we look at our soldiers’ card, we see that he moves 5 inches per phase, can look 15 squares and has a range to shoot from 13 inches to 9 squares per phase. Now, according to our phases, there is a Move, Look, and Shoot. While each player alternates, I will only illustrate the American Phases.
Looking at our Soldier Card as I mentioned above, he can move 5 inches. We take the ruler provided with the game and move our soldier accordingly. Now if there was a “Talk Bubble” on the card with additional instructions we would follow those instructions also. So if it were to say “move 1 soldier, any of our soldiers could move their movement allowances or we can move the same soldier just moved an additional 5 inches. The choice of moving soldiers is up to the phasing player.
Following the German Phase, the next phase is Look. Here the American player is attempting to spot an enemy unit. Let’s assume that there is an enemy unit 4 squares away. We know that our soldier can look up to 15 squares, but that is if the land was flat with no cover. What we need to do is to look at each square and sum each of the look values that you find on the terrain piece in the blue box. So, if the terrain pieces had look values of -2, -1, -1, -3 the total value would be -7. As long as the Look (sight) value on the soldier card is greater than the intervening terrain values the enemy unit would be sighted. We would now place a sighted marker on the enemy unit.
Next the German player would take his corresponding phase. Now, the American player turns over his Shoot Action card. You should by now realize that most of the cards in this game perform multiple functions which is one reasons this game is so enjoyable. Since there are multiple ranges at which a shot can take place, we need to make sure that the unit is sighted by our firing unit. The firing units front arc must be facing the enemy, and it must be within the firing units range. We will assume that the target is the unit that was spotted during the previous American Look phase which means it is 4 squares away. At this point we need to sum all of the pink Shoot modifiers on the terrain and determine if it can be hit. We now look at the Character Card and see the ranges for Private Fields and find that he only scores a hit on a close shot. Since the target unit is 4 squares away, there is no hit applied.
Now let’s say the German unit is 5 inches away. Let’s assume there are no pink shot modifies and as such all of the range shots would be applied to the target unit. In effect, a soldier can score more than one hit during their shoot phase. The German player would turn over the next action card and look at the “Hit Check” box on the card to determine what the damage would be. While this whole process may sound complicated, it really does work well and players pick up this sequence very quickly.
Is it a Miniatures Game? Or is it a Boardgame! This is the question we started the review asking. After spending quite a bit of time with this game I can tell you that because of its uniqueness, I would call it a Miniatures Boardgame. There have been a number of attempts in the past 40 years to combine Boardgaming and miniatures gaming. As far as I can remember, the first attempt at this experiment was by SPI back in the late 1970’s with a couple of Napoleonic games. Here, 15mm miniatures were used to and the counters were used as the miniature bases. This did not to create a board/miniatures game system. After this, there were many other attempts of the historical and fantasy genre, some of which were more successful than others.
I am not going to say that Sergeants Miniatures Game is perfect, but neither is any boardgame I have ever played. There are always questions and referring back to the rules. SMG is no different in this area than any other boardgame. Probably my biggest complaint with SMG was that they didn’t have examples of which cards are which. By this I mean which cards are the Story Cards, Phase Cards, Action Cards, etc. However, it seems that the latest version of the rules, which is 1.72 takes care of this complaint. With these new rules, I feel that gamers should be able to pick up the game system rather quickly.
So, how good is Sergeants Miniatures Game? Well, if I were going to base my review on the games initial rules, I would have said so-so. However, with the updated 1.72 rules I mentioned, I have to say I am rather impressed with the game system and its play. The miniatures are nicely painted, the geomorphic map pieces are bright and colorful, and the cards are of excellent quality. The play of the game is fun, fast, and furious. I can only imagine how the game plays with larger maps and additional soldiers. Lost Battalion Games has a number of expansions and soldiers that they offer to expand this base game and I can safely say that more will be available in the future. If you are a boardgamer who wants to get involved in miniature gaming or a miniature gamer that’s interested in Boardgaming, this is an excellent game for you. Even if you have a passing interest in this type of game, but enjoy Squad Level Games, this is one to take seriously. Sergeants Miniatures Game offers unique gaming experience and is an excellent Miniatures Boardgame for Squad Level gaming that really is simple to understand but because of all the different stories that can be created with the cards will be difficult to master.