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Subject: A cold day in hell... rss

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Wulf Corbett
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The intro
This is a strange review, given that the rules are available to download from BGG. Either you, gentle reader, are fascinated to hear about the map and counters, or else you can’t be bothered reading the rules for yourself…

Designed as a futuristic game, this turned into an alternative history game as of November 4th, 1991 – the date stated on the box top for the start of the conflict! The game is, almost entirely, within credible limits of technology and capability, and theorises a conflict over the oil and mineral resources in Antarctica. Forces present are from the US and USSR, with an optional presence of the SAU – the South American Union. Even MORE optional are a bunch of aliens lying frozen in stasis chambers under the ice – but that’s a very small option in the rules, albeit a major attraction to me!

OK, so it’s the Cold War heating up by getting even colder… and it’s not a simple game! The rulebook looks rather fearsome, at 24 pages, but actually just short of half of that is actual rules, the rest is background and notes. Even the 4 pages of tables are two sets of 2. So, let’s start at the beginning…

The bits
The box is a standard size, the top painted in suitable icy shades of white & grey, and featuring the one truly science fiction item in the standard game – a laser tank. Inside are a mapsheet, counters, rules and a counter tray, plus 2 small D6 (you roll 2D6 for almost all the tables in this game).

The map is very nice indeed. 22”x34” of stiff paper. While it is certainly colour, there’s very little other than pale blue and white, with a dash of brown and a few spots of red (plus black text, of course). Only about half the area is actual map – Antarctica is conveniently roughly circular. At either end are various tables and tracks – big tracks, with 100 spaces each, for all the various supply markers used in the game. There are a LOT of those…The tables are, by comparison, small & simple. It’s a subtle map, there’s very little variety in Antarctic terrain – all flat snowfield in the middle, with some mountains and pack ice round the edges. Very clearly printed and fine. Only one complaint, it’s one of those maps where someone has decided you have to walk all the way around the table to read all the text – I can see how two players would want their relevant info right way up across the table, but this has text aligned to all four sides!

Anyway, next are the counters. 400 of them, technically in two sheets – mine were still joined and folded in half. Despite buying this second hand, it’s in immaculate condition. Counters are fairly simple. One background colour per force (Red for USSR, naturally, darker blue for the USA, pale blue for the SAU, white for detection markers and aliens), and black for the unit info. All land forces have NATO symbols or variations on them, while air units have top-down silhouettes (can you get top-down silhouettes? Whatever the right word is…). While the USA has recognisable F14s, A10s and the like, and the USSR some Su-22 and MiG-23, for some reason the Soviets also seem to be using SAAB Viggens and both sides use C47s… Oh, well, their function is clear, and the counters are clearly marked. There are a lot of different types, detailed in the rules. Land units include Mech Infantry, Engineers, Garrison Troops, Airmobile Teams, Paratroops and the less familiar Hovertanks, Droids (actually land versions of today’s armed UAVs), Laser Tanks and, more predictably, Van Convoys (supply vehicles – you’ll be hearing more about them!) Air units are Fighters, Ground Support, EW aircraft, Light & Heavy Transports, Attack & Transport Helicopters, and, up further, recon & killer satellites (the latter abbreviated as ‘KISS’…) Add to that lot supply markers coded to match each unit that can carry supplies (they go on those tracks on the mapsheet), sensor markers, and various Alien unit types (they don’t need supply markers) That’s a LOT of stuff! Each land unit is rated in anti-armour, anti-infantry, anti-air and EW strength, while air units have anti-ground, anti-air, operational range and EW strength. There are also a set of 8 chits, 4 each for attacker & defender, with different combat strategies. They include Charge!, Air-Intensive attack, Retreat under covering screen, Surrender, etc.

The rulebook, as I’ve mentioned, includes sheets of tables. I’ll just mention them briefly. They cover unit detection, as well as lockon, breakoff and air and land combat results (and some alien wakeup tables). The tables are pretty simple and clear. The rules themselves… well, they are clear, but there’s a LOT of them! Each rule is well presented in the standard SPI style, with plenty of brief examples scattered around for tricky rules.

The game
OK, those were the physical components. What do I DO?
Here’s the sequence of play:
1. Unit purchase/arrival phase
2. Weather determination phase
3. Supply phase
4. Airdrop phase
5. Air transport phase
6. Air detection phase
7. Satellite phase
8. Land movement phase
9. Air scramble phase
10. Combat phase
11. Construction phase
12. Air ferry phase
13. Game turn advancement phase

I’ll only detail the more interesting bits.

1. You can ‘buy’ new units with Resource Points – you get those from capturing enemy bases. Presumably you don’t actually sell the bits, it represents a measure of operational success being supported from home.

2. Weather is three shades of nasty, here called Good, Normal & Poor, randomly rolled per turn. Interestingly, land units don’t have movement allowances on the counters, but on the weather table. Good idea, that! Air units are restricted in Normal weather (no paratroop drops), and virtually grounded in Poor (barring Heavy Transports & US Fighters), except to ferry to another base.

3. Supply is the meat and drink of this game, literally and metaphorically. NOTHING (except Satellites) moves without Supply points. Playing this game is all about moving around supplies, and storing them in bases and Van Convoys. Your combat units will have to take supply trucks along, or they won’t be coming home… The supply point tracks are marked with the maximum supply count each store can contain.

4. You can airdrop supplies, although it’s inefficient (you lose 2/3 of the supplies!), and transports can be escorted by fighters and intercepted by the enemy.

5. Combat units and supplies can be moved from base to base by transports. Paratroops move in the Scramble phase. Escorts & interceptions are again possible.

6. This is Air units detecting Land units – all aircraft are detected & identified, thankfully, but those are big hexes – you may not even notice enemy forces on the ground, even in the same hex! And even once you detect them, you still have to identify them… All done by simple die roll, thankfully.

7. Satellites assist in detection, but are poor at identifying force types. Killer Satellites… kill Recon Satellites. So do Laser tanks, but it gives the game away where & what they are if they do.

8. Land movement is, thankfully, fairly straightforward (so long as you’re supplied, and the weather is good…). The simple terrain cost chart is on the map. You CAN enter a hex with enemy units, in fact they may remain undetected (there’s no hidden movement, you just can’t do anything about them – you have a general idea where they are. Hidden movement would work fine if you had a referee). You can drop off sensors as you go to aid in detecting the enemy.

EDIT: At this point, I should mention the Initiative and sequencing for movement. One player moves a stack, then the other player moves one, and so on. So both players get to react to one another as movement continues. The rules do mention that all land movement could just as well be secretly written down and movement be done simultaneously, but air movement has to alternate so the enemy can decide when to intercept.

9. This is where combat air units move to combat hexes. There’s no interception here, but there is an air-to-air combat segment.

10. Aaaandd Now…
a. Air to air combat – this includes lockon rolls & EW modifiers on the charts
b. Anti-air – uses EW again, but not lockon
c. Paradrop
d. Declare tactics (one of four chits each)
e. Combat Resolution
f. Breakoff or repeat combat
g. Air units return to base
Land combat is by combat differential – attacking strength minus defending strength, and roll on a table. Thankfully, after all the other complexities, it’s simple!

11. Engineers can build temporary bases to store supplies

12. Transports move supplies & troops from base to base.

13. And it starts again

Right then… How to PLAY it… Obviously, this is a game of logistics. Every unit needs supplies to do ANYTHING, so you’ll spend a lot of time checking supply levels, moving supplies, allocating transports, etc. Most units will just have to sit tight most of the time. There are, fortunately, no attrition rules for being out of supply, but those units are almost useless in combat. Actual combat is relatively simple, the worry is getting home afterwards (air units automatically fly back to base, ground units don’t…) You can, of course, capture enemy supplies (and indeed get both the Supply Points and Resource/Victory points for capturing bases). Transports and bases will be prime targets. The detection rules mean you’ll have to work hard to even FIND the enemy (you know he’s around here SOMEWHERE…) The weather can cripple a long-term strategy by grounding air units and immobilising ground troops.

The decision
Is this a GOOD game? Well, it’s all very logical, and all the rules are actually relatively straightforward. However, I can see the supply situation being very tedious and time consuming. The use of tracks on the mapsheet gives me a feeling of déjà vu from my last review, High Crusade, which had a similar mechanism – it keeps the clutter off the map itself, and eliminates paperwork – there’s a lot of bookkeeping, but it’s all on the map. Also, the initiative & movement system alternating between players, one at a time, will tend to slow the game down, but does allow a better, more reactive game. It’s playable, but it’s not simple. I look on it as a daunting, but highly tempting challenge! Various bits are difficult to solo – especially the choosing of combat tactics chits, since it’s the interaction of these that’s the major influence on the land combat resolution table.

Oh, and the aliens? There are loads of underground Stasis chambers marked on the map, mostly near the ocean. Stray too close, and they may wake up. They still need supplies, but don’t track them – they can move normally if unsupplied, but otherwise suffer as human units. They have some nice toys to play with – mole units, grav transports, powerful beam weapons and psionic masters. But, essentially, they operate like human units.
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Wulf Corbett
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I added a couple of notes, in bold face to make them stand out.
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Darrell Pavitt
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There's a number of ways to solo the combat chits- you can choose one side and randomly draw the other, or discard one or more chits from either side and make a reasoned choice from those remaining.

I've got WitI but never got around to studying it.
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Wulf Corbett
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Oh, yes, logically there should only be one or two choices in any combat, it's really no different to any other 2-player game played solo - but it does make the mechanism a bit pointless, and takes a bit of the fun out! One thing I hadn't realised - only 2 out of the 12 combat combinations (4 options are "Defender surrenders") have a 0 modifier - so you can't just miss out the chits, realistically.
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Darrell Pavitt
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It's a pity weather and seasons are glossd over: Jan and Feb should have 24 hours of daylight (more or less) and June and July 24 hours of night - that must affect movement and detection somehow.
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Wulf Corbett
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The weather table does make worse weather more likely as the game progresses, that does make movement slower and detection less likely. It's not specifically addressed, but the effect is there.
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(Mr.) Kim Beattie
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Okay, it's been years (decades, really) since I last played this game, but I've always thought this was a very good game. Even a great game.

The alternating movement idea presaged the impulse type game mechanic and the initiative idea is an idea that shows up in many wargames. The supply and logistic mechanics are what, in my opinion, makes this game shine. (Remember my memories are 20+ years old here.) The need to plan a campaign across the ice and provide for supply along the way just really appealed to me.

I never played the Alien version of the game, which I thought was just silly. The "standard" version is the game to play. Supply and logistics rule the day and the side that can better plan and prepare for combat will win the day and the game.

I guess it's time to dig this game out of storage and get it back on the table. If only to see if it is as good a game as I remember.
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Good Lord, man, retain that anus! One day its fruit may be the only thing that stands between us and total oblivion!
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And for a third time, a Cordwainer Bird Award and 3 GG tip for your review. Thanks for contributing to the database.

Help whittle the list of OOP science fiction, fantasy and horror games without reviews. See the Cordwainer Bird Award GeekList for more information.
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Mark Humphries
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The designer used a similar alternating impulse system in his later Helltank and Helltank Destroyer microgames.

Great review.
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Nameless Necromancer
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Fantastic review which inspired me to buy the game which I had passed up all those years ago.
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Albert Magnus
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Thanks for the review. I think I read somewhere that the SPI micro game, Titan Strike, was a test run for the systems used in War on the Ice.
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Philip Kosnett
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Hi. Designer here. Nice to see people are still interested in the game after all these years.

There was a connection between WITI and Titan Strike but the story is a tad different. WITI was already in the works when SPI started working up the Space Capsule microgame line. I did a prototype of a tactical game using the unit types from WITI, with the idea that selling "McMurdo Strike" microgames would double as marketing for WITI. Redmond was not impressed - he wanted a tactical game set on an alien world, and believed - doubtless correctly - that the WITI background was not mainstream enough for what we hoped would be more of a mass market microgame line.
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Chris Hansen
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Interesting. I never knew that Titan Strike was originally evolved from WITI. It seems in the end it was connected to BattleFleet Mars instead.

Maybe you should have told him that it was aliens attacking in the McMurdo Stike game.

Either way they are to me both enjoyable games.
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Matt Jolly
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Great review,

thank you!

I played the hell out of this back in the day, and still have my copy. Of course I may have been playing it wrongly (I was 12 when I bought this game) but I think that for me the two enduring memories of the systems were:
The lag between buying something and it actually pitching up in your orbat; the SAU's only real advantage, and
The review kind of glosses over the RP's. We certainly played that you could budget your RPs in deficit, and this was a viable tactic depending on your own and the enemy's plan, in a race for the bottom sort of way. It also meant that the limited countermix was actually important. The droids were pretty rubbish, but sometimes were the only things that you could add to the production queue...

It was kind of a cross between carrier battles, high-tech land warfare and a game of RP chicken. Perhaps more lastingly, the first game I ever played where logistics were pretty seamless, and vitally important, and I was more concerned about the availability of my air transport than air combat assets..... Clever.

Cheers,

Matt

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Ten years after the review ...

A game I thought looked really interesting, owned, but never got around to playing (not a strike against the game as that describes most of the wargames I bought back then).

I recall one of the interesting aspects of the game is its premise is that of a limited war. The objective is to win on the cheap. Military success has to come inexpensively. If a player achieves military success, but has spent too much relative to the other player(s) he will still lose the game. The especially interesting aspect was the resource point track goes negative. A player can spend himself into a hole in the quest for military success.
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