Hell On Wheels Has Some Great Points But Like The Panther Tank It Has Some Teething Pains. Game Review
Sergeants Miniature Game Hell on Wheels and Vehicle Booster Packs Game Review. Publisher: Lost Battalion Games Designer: Jeff Billings Prices: Starter: $39.95 Expansions: Vehicle Modules $29.95 Large 20mm Vehicle Miniatures $44.95 to $55.95 Small 10mm Vehicle Miniatures: $14.95
Passed Inspection: Beautiful hand printed pewter miniatures. Fully rotatable turrets and machine guns. Complete rules for playing a standalone vehicle game or using with Sergeants infantry minis. High quality components. Totally immersive playing experience. Two different sizes to fit your budget.
Failed Basic: Expensive. Rules for damage are tough to figure out. Needs outlines or some other visual aid to show the flow of some rules. Rules reference an FAQ which can’t be found (at the time of the writing of this review). No rule for oblique armor aspects. Some of the art for the Marder III and German halftrack show wrong model type of each vehicle. The gunner on the German halftrack shows he is armed with an Mg42 but the halftrack control board shows an Mg34 – which take priority?
Unteroffizier Neumann, the commander of a type 250 German half track, strained his eyes as the vehicle trundled down a lonely road in Normandy. He sat tensely behind the halftrack’s Mg34 mount and cautiously scanned the terrain to the front and sides of the half track. The Allies had gained a beachhead in France and dropped paratroopers deep into the country side. Neumann’s mission was to scout this patch of countryside and, if the enemy is spotted, get that information back to base. Zimmer, who was shorter than Neumann, was crammed in the rather confining driver’s chair and kept the halftrack moving at a steady but cautious pace. In the halftrack’s rear compartment were three infantry soldiers who also maintained a careful watch for anything out of the ordinary. Suddenly Neumann saw someone run out a patch of trees just 15 meters up the road – he caught the glimpse of a helmet which was definitely not German issue! “Halt” he ordered Zimmer as he maneuvered the Mg34 towards the trees. “Ready for action!” he yelled at the three soldiers who jumped over the side and took up combat postures. Suddenly he saw two Americans 20 meters ahead. The Yanks readied what appeared to be a bazooka! Neumann shot and the machine gun cut down the man holding the bazooka. The other man was unhurt and grabbed for the weapon. Before Neumann could bring the machine gun to bear on him, the bazooka spat fire and a shell impacted near the halftrack. One of the three German soldiers screamed in pain as the other two cut the American down. Hirsch was wounded by the blast from the bazooka. He was lucky to be alive. The other two soldiers loaded him in to the back of the halftrack as they headed back towards their HQ to get Hirsch some medical attention. At least Neumann’s patrol confirmed that Americans were indeed in their sector. So went a game of Hell on Wheels – Lost Battalion Game’s newest release in their Sergeants Miniatures Game.
Hell on Wheels is the new expansion to Lost Battalion Game’s famed Sergeants Miniatures Game System but unlike the original games (Sergeants Day of Days which features 20mm miniatures or Sergeants D Day which features 10mm cardboard cut outs), Hell on Wheels focuses on the vehicles of World War 2 and, most importantly, on the crews who served on them. Hell on Wheels can stand alone for the gamer who only wants to focus on World War 2 vehicle action or it can be used to add a whole new dimension to your ground pounder infantry missions.
The base game includes not only complete rules and scenarios for World War 2 vehicles but also rules and cards to add special equipment to your infantry units. Counters are also included for informational purposes such as wrecks and fires plus vehicle ammunition types (high explosive, armor piercing, etc.). Mission cards are also included as are new terrain tiles for road blocks.
Hell on Wheels builds upon the game system used in Sergeants so many of the elements of play will be familiar to Sergeants players.
Each unit is one vehicle with cards and stand-up miniatures representing each crew member. Each vehicle is rated for armor strength at different positions around the vehicle, vulnerability to fire based upon fuel and ammo storage, speed, accuracy and strength of the main gun against both soft and hard targets, accuracy and strength of each machine gun position, availability of radios, visibility from both open hatches and visibility when hatches are closed, height of the vehicle (important for hiding behind terrain or going “hull down”), strengths of the optics used to sight weapons, type and quantity of ammo stored in the hull or turret, number of shells at hand in the turret for immediate use by the loader, speed of the vehicle over different terrain types, vulnerability to bogging down and victory point worth.
Each crewmember has their own unique card. Each card shows the name and rank of the person, how good their ability is to spot things, their ability to hide, rally, throw hand grenades and shoot side arms, their ability in melee combat, their speed and how much extra equipment they can hold.
Together, the men and their machine form a fighting unit.
Understand that the starter box does not include any vehicles – only the rules to run them and counters to track ammunition and status. The vehicle control boxes contain what you need to run the vehicles in the game and the vehicle miniatures boxes contain the pewter hand painted vehicles, themselves. As of this writing the minis include a Sherman tank, Panzer IV tank, American halftrack, German model 250 scout halftrack and a M8 Greyhound scout car. All the vehicles are prepainted Pewter and contain rare earth magnets which allow turrets to be moved, tracks to come off and machine guns to rotate.
Each vehicle has specific action cards and each crew member has specific action cards. These cards allow the crew to control the vehicle by moving it, rotating a turret or the vehicle itself, firing the main guns or machine guns, etc. The vehicle and crew action cards are shuffled together to form a vehicle draw deck. If you are using infantry as well, their action cards should be kept in a separate action deck pile.
Rules are also included for using untrained men as crew and how this lack of training affects the smooth operations of the vehicle and other crew members.
The play sequence is pretty much the same as the play sequence in the Sergeants Miniatures Game although there are few extra phases.
1. Players draw Action Cards
2. Reveal the top three Phase Cards from the Story Deck
3. Resolve any Events if any
4. Determine if smoke dissipates
5. Resolve heavy artillery and/or rocket fire.
6. Place Action Cards
7. Determine imitative
8. Phase 1 Actions
10. Check to see if vehicle fires spread
11. Repeat Steps 7 to 10 for Phases 2 and 3
12. Discard all remaining Action Cards from your hand
To move, a move Action Card must be played or there must be a similar Action Card which helps move the vehicle or crew member.
Vehicles are either open or buttoned up and status counters are included to show which position is open and which is buttoned up. If you button up, your situational awareness may be impacted based upon the design of the vehicle. Always remember to button up that hatch when engaged in combat! I ran out of armored piercing ammo for my tank and did a “what the hell” shot at an enemy tank with high explosive. The other player forgot to close his commander’s hatch and the commander was put out of action by the blast! I also caused a fire to start in the turret! If his hatch was closed, he would have been OK.
Vehicles can attempt to move in to hull down positions which can help their defense if attacked.
Facing and Bog Checks are handled simply and effectively.
If you using the larger 20mm vehicles remember that they need a larger table then if you are just using infantry. The foot print of this game can become extremely large. Each vehicle has its own control board which is loaded with status counters, ammunition stored and in the loader’s hand and in the gun, each crew member has to be in their position space, passengers must be placed, etc. This can lead to a table size of at least six feet, if not more, to avoid crowding and to accurately reflect the ranges these tanks fought at.
The range really comes in when fighting occurs. Each weapon is rated for its lethality and accuracy at different ranges.
First the shooting arc must be determined – is the target being hit in its front arc, side arc, rear, hull or turret, etc. This is effectively handled by both measure the arc from the shooter to the target and then making a card draw to determine hull or turret. The only problem I saw with this was that no accommodation was made for oblique hits. In real life, an oblique hit could spell the difference between a shell penetrating or bouncing off the target.
If the shell penetrates the armor, there are complete rules for determining what systems were hit and if fires broke out or crew members wounded or killed. Ammo being hit and cooking off is a bad situation (BAD!) and can result in the total destruction of the vehicle and crew. Seven pages are used to explain how damage occurs (including a lengthy and helpful example) but the rules are dense and some “unpacking” of these rules would have helped explain this critical section. Even more helpful would have been a chart or outline showing combat from start to finish as this section produced more confusion and rule references than any other rule in the game. This is a must do item for any upcoming FAQ. And while we are on the subject of an FAQ, the rules refer you to the Lost Battalion website for an FAQ but, as of this writing, none is available. Please correct this Lost Battalion!
New rule are included for recovering items, handing off equipment, mine fields, artillery strikes and prisoners.
The pewter miniatures are beautifully produced and very sturdy. For this review, I examined the Sherman, US Halftrack, German model 250 halftrack, Panzer IV and the Marder III.
My only complaint with the miniatures is that they are very pricey. A plastic option for $20 or so would be much appreciated. As it is now, it is extremely pricey to build up a battle force.
The vehicle control boxes are well packaged and needed to play the vehicles. Each one includes crew cards and vehicle cards plus a control board and some status markers including proper grenade markers for the Germans which show the “potato masher” grenades!
The artwork on the cards is stunning but the wrong vehicles are shown on some of the cards and the boxes for the Marder III and the Model 250 German halftrack! The art shows the Marder I and the larger model 251 halftrack instead! Not a game breaker but rather annoying for the grognard!
Also, the gunner on the German halftrack shows he is armed with an Mg42 but the halftrack control board shows an Mg34 in that position – which take priority? I found this very confusing.
Cardboard vehicles are included in each control box so as Lost Battalion says, you don’t need the more expensive vehicle miniatures but, the card board vehicles are too small for the game scale. I’m not sure why larger 20mm cardboard vehicles were not included. Maybe Lost Battalion can do these as a downloadable PDF file?
These few complaints aside, Hell on Wheels is one of the most immersive World War 2 gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The action is intense; the stories which develop around the intimate nature of each scenario are amazing! With a few corrections, Hell on Wheels could become a classic of the war gaming world much the same as the Sergeants Miniature Game already is!
For our review of Sergeants see:
For our interview with Jeff Billings, designer of Sergeants and Hell on Wheels, see:
Armchair General Rating: 86 %
Solitaire Rating: 4 ( 1 = not suitable to 5 = perfect for solo)
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!