Hot War: Battle for Oil Game Review
Hot War: Battle for Oil Game Review. Publisher: Zvezda. Designer: Konstantin Krivenko. Price: $69.95.
Game Review by Ray Garbee
Passed Inspection: High quality components. Heavy duty cardboard map boards. Full color rule and scenario books that are well illustrated. Detailed example of play that demonstrates the mechanics. Cleanly integrates ammunition and casualties into the game system.
Failed Basic: Game only provides data for units included in the box. Missing the canopies for both helicopters. A plain vanilla model of the M1.
“Hot War: Battle for Oil” is a Zvezda board game that is part of the Art of Tactics series. It shares the same game system as the Barbarossa 41 game. The game is set in a fictional historical past of the 1990’s where the Soviet Union did not dissolve. Instead, the Soviets and the United States (and presumably the rest of their respective allies) have escalated their competition into open war. The setting is an un-named Middle Eastern state that serves as a faceless backdrop for the game between the superpowers.
I’m a child of the Cold War. Reagan was elected while I was in high school and much of my gaming in the 80’s focused on the possibility of the cold war going hot. Fulda Gap, Reforger, Diego Garcia, Speznatz, TOW, Sagger, Inter-German Border were all part of my geeky gaming lexicon in the decade that culminated in the First Gulf War.
Unboxing Hot War: Battle for oil was in many ways a trip down memory lane. The cutting-edge weapons of war are again the M2 Bradley’s, T-72, and Abrams main battle tanks. Apache and Hind attack helicopters prowl the sky searching for targets to engage with their missiles and guns. The complexities of the AirLand battle vie with the age-old struggle of a handful of men standing their ground to resist the aggression of others.
The scale of the game is left unstated. This applies to ground scale, time scale and even unit scale. It appears to be a single tank/fire team level game, but can be construed as a squad/platoon level game. The infantry figures are 1/72 scale. The vehicles are 1/100 scale while the helicopters are 1/144 scale.
The heart of the game engine are the unit data cards. This is your one stop shop for the status of your unit. Firepower – check! Armor – check? Ammunition and fuel – check! Each unit on the gameboard has a double-sided data card. The cards have a glossy finish allowing you to use a dry erase marker (how 80’s!) to mark status changes to the unit. Status changes include the unit’s current order, morale, robustness (aka-hits). The cards take a bit of practice to grasp, but once you get the hang of them, the speed of game play begins to flow.
To really get a feel for the game, you need to sit down and do a comparison of the unit cards to gauge unit effectiveness. When you do this, a few oddities pop up. The longest direct fire units are the T-72 and Abrams, this outranges the TOW equipped Bradley or the TOW equipped Apache or AT-6 (Shturm) equipped Mi-24D. The BTR-80 throws respectable firepower at the Bradley, while the Bradley has significantly more firepower against the BTR. The BTR and Bradley are both rated as able to attack helicopters.
The combat mechanism combines three traits – range to target, the class of the target and the strength of the firing unit to assess a unit’s firepower. Together, these factors determine how many attack dice are throw and what the ‘to hit’ number will be. There are a handful of additional modifiers including cover, entrenchment and ambush.
General rules include cover, structure damage including damage to villages and an assortment of bridges. The rules have good coverage of destruction to the environment – principally buildings, oil refineries and bridges. These have their own unit cards for damage tracking purposes.
What’s missing in the game
- BMP1/2 – for a game modeling the Soviet Army in the 1990’s it’s a strange decision to omit the BMP. I’d argue that it’s the natural opponent for the Bradley instead of the BTR. The BTR feels ‘overgunned’ in its firepower representation of the 14.5mm heavy machinegun, a BMP would have fit better with the Bradley.
- Airstrikes – a complete set of modern rules has to account for airstrikes. With the exception of helicopters, these rules do not. Would be nice to include A-10 or Su-25 for ground attack.
- The rules for chemical warfare. Though the game includes markers for chemical attack and an order status to don chemical warfare gear, there are no rules for actually executing a chemical attack.
- Artillery – not a single mortar or other class of indirect fire weapon has been represented in the basic game. It’s an odd omission for a ubiquitous weapons system. “Call Fire” is an order listed in the game, but is restricted to units that possess this trait – which none of the models do. (However, there is artillery available in the expansion sets – see below).
When you have a model manufacturing company producing games, you expect the playing pieces to be first rate. For the most part, that expectation was met. The models in the game include an M1 Abrams, a T-72B, three (3) M2 Bradley, three (3) BTR-80, Infantry for each side and two helicopters = an Apache and a Hind. The vehicles are 1/100 models; the helicopters are 1/144 models and the infantry is modeled in 1/72.
What’s the deal with the multiple scales? Okay, clearly this is a board game, not a tabletop miniatures game like Battlefront’s Team Yankee or the old GDW Combined Arms. Each of the chosen scales work well for the Art of Tactic board game. The tanks are small enough to fit in the hexes while the infantry is large enough to show off detail. The smaller helicopters actually work well when placed on their elevated flight stands. While models in a constant scale would be great for translating the game into a traditional miniatures game, the tanks and helos will port to the table quite nicely and 15mm infantry isn’t really that expensive in this day and age. At the same time, the 1/72 infantry can pull double duty for other skirmish games if desired.
Overall, the models were easy to assemble, they will go together as ‘snap-tight’ kits, but using a good model cement (for example an ABS cement) will allow you a good, solid build with just a small additional effort. Some effort is required in this step as each model has a number of parts. Each tank took about 15 minutes to assemble. The APC were closer to 20 minutes each and the helicopters were closer to 30 minutes each. The infantry took about 15-20 minutes per stand (a total of six stands in the game). None of the vehicles include exposed commanders or exposed turret machine guns.
M1: okay, let’s get this out of the way. The M1 was a breeze to assemble, no problems there. But the model is underwhelmingly plain vanilla and lacking in detail. Not to be harsh, but I had a Matchbox M1 that had a comparable level of detail. I’m disappointed in the product, especially given the quality of the rest of the models.
T-72B: This model is very nice indeed! Also, easy to build, the model is very nicely detailed with external fuel tanks, and reactive armor fitted to the turret. One minor quibble is that the commander’s AA machinegun is not included with the model. But in general, a good, solid model of the T-72B.
BTR-80: A snap to assemble, the BTR-80 is the early model that closely resembles its ancestors – the BTR-60 and BTR-70. The turret is one piece and mounts the standard 14.5mm HMG. These were very nice builds of a very common APC in the Soviet army. It would have been nice if the model had also included the turret for the BTR-80A, but the game appears to be set just before the roll out of the “A” model.
M2 Bradley: These have a few more parts than the BTR, but it builds out as a very nice kit. Construction follows the standard pattern of the Zevezda kits. One tricky bit is getting the turret top to mate with the turret lower. Just take your time and check the alignment and it will snap into place!
Infantry: The infantry models are quite nice. The RPG and AT-4 gunners look good as do the SAW and RPK gunners. The team leaders lack the expected underslung grenade launchers, but the M16A2 of the US troops is nicely modeled if a little on the thin side. The infantry comes with two types of bases – a team base for use with Hot War and individual bases allowing you to ‘rebase’ for use with other game systems. The team automatic weapons are small models unto themselves – the US SAW gunner includes separate parts for the bipod and ammo belt as well as the gun, and gunner’s arms and a leg. It does look good when assembled!
Helicopters: The helicopters were the hardest part of the build. The keys to success here can be found in another 90’s reference – This Old House. Follow the directions, test fit all the parts and use a sharp hobby knife – or better yet sprue cutters- to remove the parts from the model. Don’t forget to install the rotor shaft plug in the Hind (I did!). The Apache parts are a little fragile as are the missile tubes for both the Hind and the Apache.
There are a number of additional units available for the game. These include M109 and SAU-122 self-propelled howitzers, a Ural heavy truck, the ZSU-23 ‘Shilka’ and assorted infantry support teams (but sadly no BMP or mortars), all available as individual models kits. In addition, the models from the core rules are also available as expansion units to the basic game. Finding the unit ratings for this units is a bit of a challenge. The ratings for the add on units can be found at;
A bittersweet fact is that Zvezda has apparently suspended support for Hot War in favor of focusing efforts on other projects (such as the WWII and Samurai lines). It’s not the end of the world for the game, the unit ratings are out there on the internet and there are enough models available that building your forces will not be a problem. Given the data that is available, it would not be too difficult to cobble together additional ratings for other vehicles.
In addition, the vehicles and helicopters have a lot of utility for other 15mm games and the infantry would port over to any number of skirmish rules (the Carl Gustav gunners will make a nice addition to my US troops for Force on Force!).
Overall, Hot War: Battle for Oil is a solid game. It’s an interesting rules engine covering a ‘what if’ environment that is seems as timely today as it did thirty years ago. This is a good starter set to explain the rules and dip your toes into the models packaged with the game. Its strengths are the high quality easy to assemble models and good layout out rules. It weak points are not offering a complete listing of hardware and troop sections and a lack of detailed rules for artillery, engineering and aircraft.
Armchair General Rating: 85%
Solitaire Rating: 1
Short Bio of Ray Garbee
A gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a business analyst in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.