“Two Shermans at 1 O’Clock. Loader Panzergranate. Gunner Fire on Closest Tank!” Review of the Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit.
Tiger Leader upgrade kit. Boardgame Review. Publisher: Dan Verssen Games. Designer: Rick Martin Free with Sherman Leader or download for free from DVG website.
Passed Inspection: Updates rules to the Sherman Leader standard. Adds some additional units to the game. Improved game play results in more engaging game.
Failed Basic: Presents rule changes as addendum, does not have an updated integrated rulebook. Retains the original unit card graphics.
Dan Verssen Games (DVG) released Tiger Leader in 2015. Tiger Leader was Rick Martin’s game of combat in World War II from the perspective of a German battlegroup commander. Designed expressly for solitaire play, Tiger Leader allowed the player to engage in campaigns across the spectrum of the war from the initial invasion of Poland through the fall of Berlin. While the game was generally well received, there was some critiques of the operational movement model and the tactical combat model that appeared to make your opponents quite skilled and always on the attack.
In 2017, DVG released Sherman Leader, the linear descendant of Tiger Leader. Sherman Leader had an extensive overhaul of the core “Tank Leader” rules that addressed many of the points raised in the critique of Tiger Leader. The changes were so extensive that Sherman Leader – while clearly in the ‘Tank Leader’ family – was a very different game from Tiger Leader. The operational movement table was tweaked to lessen the effects of casualties on enemy battalions. The tactical movement table was revised to allow a more ‘passive’ defending force to be modeled as well as make some of the ‘recce’ elements more aggressive. At the same time, the core combat mechanism was overhauled to reflect a unit’s effectiveness either an armored or ‘soft’ target.
Not slighting the Tiger Leader fans, at the same time DVG produced a boxed expansion pack that would bring the Tiger Leader game up to the Sherman Leader standard of the rules. The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit (TLUK) is a major overhaul of the Tiger Leader game. Though not explicitly mentioned on the game box, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit requires you to also own a copy of Tiger Leader. It’s not a stand-alone game. It’s also available as a free download from the DVG website.
Cracking open the box, you’ll find that the TLUK contains a cardboard overlay that is placed over the tactical movement quadrant of the Tiger Leader board. This is the space which you consult to determine what the movement of enemy will be during each tactical game turn. It’s substantially different than the original chart (you can do a quick side by side comparison to see the extent of the changes), but let’s summarize it as saying – it’s a big change to the game.
Next you get the rules update. It’s a relatively short set of rules that point out the changes to the basic rules that came with Tiger Leader. Again, the changes focus on the new tactical movement mechanisms and the tactical combat process flows. It would have been nice to have a completely upgraded set of the rules, but the update sheets get the point across without having to read and compare the new rules with the old rules. Printed in black and white, it’s a functional update.
The net impact of the revised combat rules is to create an enemy force that behaves more prototypically. By that I mean that it’s a system where the combat arms troops tend to do the advancing and close combat while the supporting units are more likely to hang back, or stick to the cover and offer supporting fire.
At the same time, the new fire combat rules provide a boost to the defender at ranges greater than 1. Unlike the original game, you no longer have to close the range to gain an additional firepower die. The new process also generously awards you additional firepower dice and hit modifiers for mixing it up at point blank range. At the same time, the new combat model better rewards the players force for acting defensively. You can hunker down with those machine gun units and pour fire into your opponents.
The change makes the flow of combat feel more organic – for example, the new combat system removes the original mechanic of gaining a fire power die when you advance as well as removing the ability for some enemy units to move and fire that exist in the original edition of the game. Gaining a die as you close felt wrong compared with having to survive closing with the enemy before gaining effectiveness.
Then there are the counters. The TLUK contains replacement counter sheets for all the counters in the original Tiger Leader. These really are a nice upgrade as the quality of the counters is clearly improved. The improvements include improved size, weight and quality of both the printing and the die cut around each counter. This brings the counters up to the same standard as seen in Sherman Leader.
The counters break down into ‘your guys’ – counters for your German battlegroup and the enemy. There are lot of enemy counters. It’s less that your battling against a huge horde than that the scope of the game requires counters for the Poles…and the French…and the British…and the Russians, and lastly the United States. The various enemy counters are marked with an overhead vehicle picture, nationality flag, unit type and combat factors. That sounds like a lot, but the counters are not cluttered and the key information is easy to read.
Lastly, we get to the heart of the upgrade – the cards. The Tiger Leader Expansion Kit replaces almost every card in the original game. I say almost as you will retain the Event card and Special Condition card decks. Everything else must go! It may seem like a lot, but the substantial changes to the combat system mandate replacing all these cards. Let’s break down what that means to the player upgrading his (or her) Tiger Leader game.
Leader cards – You’re getting the same set of leaders you did in the basic game, but with their combat abilities tweaked to align with the new rules. The artwork has not been changed, nor have the names.
Unit cards – This is basically the same collection of units as the basic game, but there are some changes. There appears to be fewer Panther and Tiger tanks (designer Rick Martin has asked that this be fixed in the planned Tiger Leader Version 2 release – Editor) and the addition of some new cards. Again, the changes are focused on the revisions to the rule. Units now have a type code classifying them as either armored of soft target types. This carries over into the attack ‘to hit’ numbers as units will have differing abilities to hit each target type. For example, a Panzer I armed only with machineguns will be very effective against soft targets but totally ineffective against armored targets. Vehicles that were formerly classified as unarmored are now referred to as light armored.
The new unit cards do not include new graphics – the pictorial depiction of the unit is exactly the same as in the original Tiger Leader. It’s a shame as it’s an area that would have benefited if the unit pictures were raised to the same standard as Sherman Leader.
These are a handful of new unit cards in the expansion kit. A quick comparison of the original and new decks turned up two new units in the form of the 75mm PAK 40, both in towed and self-propelled versions. Beyond that, I didn’t see any changes, so if you were hoping that the deck would fill in some gaps in the German inventory such as for the Pak 36 or Pak 38, prepare to be disappointed.
Battalion cards – The battalion cards are the generic definition of the enemy units you fight across the campaigns. The changes here relate to how battalions move on the operational movement chart. Some battalions are more likely to defend than advance. Some will be fixed in place and many have special text imparting a condition or effect you’ll have to remember.
Campaign cards – The new campaign cards replace the old set. You get the same campaigns, but with some changes. Again, these changes related to the new operational movement rules and some adjustments reflecting the new combat rules.
Objective cards – Much like the campaign cards, the objective cards have been tweaked to support the updated rules. A cursory inspection suggests they are very similar if not identical to the set provided in Sherman Leader.
So, you’ve upgraded the game. Where does that leave you? Once upgraded, you have a copy of Tiger Leader that is true to its original design in that it provides a solitaire game that generates a series of small tactical battles. Each battle requires decisions and reactions to events, always bearing in mind that this battle is (typically) not the last battle you will face in the game.
The nature of the campaign game stiches these battles and their aftermath into a narrative structure that tells a story. The narrative structure will be familiar to players of many solo games and especially DVG’s ‘Leader’ series games. The narrative is just as strong as in the original Tiger Leader – you still get vested in the performance of your team. As your leaders get promoted and the team becomes more efficient, you feel the loss as your troops and leaders fall in combat.
TL aims to be your one stop shop for solo gaming the German tactical experience in WWII. The upgraded rules provide an experience much like Sherman Leader. The game pits your small team, personified with your leaders against the faceless masses of the ‘enemy’. You are often outnumbered two or three to one. But it’s okay – the enemy units are fragile while yours are a bit more robust with combat effects ranging from ‘no effect’ to ‘mowed down’. Like Sherman Leader, the key in each game is to efficiently dispatch the enemy while limiting your exposure to their fire.
Fortunately, the game’s tactical combat processes are designed to mostly bring the enemy to you. This can be dangerous – if you push forward with an aggressive initial set up, you will often find yourself beginning the game with enemy infantry launching a close assault on your troops on turn 1. If the random enemy set up breaks the wrong way, you could end up the victim of an early human wave assault.
As a self-proclaimed ‘tread head’ there are a few units missing from the force pool that I found disappointing. I’m not talking about obscure one offs, but a bit of basic kit that saw service in multiple theaters. Most notable is the absence of two of the basic anti-tank guns of the German Army the Pak 36 (37mm) and Pak 38 (50mm). These were the standard AT guns of the German army into early 1942. The Pak 36 was the primary gun for the invasions of Poland and France (leading to the use of the ‘88’ against the French heavies) and the Pak 38 was the mainstay in North Africa and the Eastern Front into 1942 and saw service to the end of the war.
A puzzling item is the game’s continued use of ‘halftracks’ as the armored personnel carrier for every country. Some of this flows from having the single set of enemy battalion cards, but it’s odd when you are tasked to deploy halftracks with the Poles or the early war British. Purists will get their dander up, but you should just roll with it. You see the same thing in Sherman Leader. I’ve come to accept that the ‘halftracks’ represent light armored units that can move people around – they may be actual halftracks, or they may be Bren carriers or even tankettes.
The key question is – do you need the upgrade kit? Aside from bringing the mechanics, cards and counters up to par with Sherman Leader, yes, it’s worth it. The upgrade kit is more than the physical components, it changes how the game plays by incorporating changes to the battalion operational movement process and the way that combat is resolved. The change to the operational movement rules may seem minor, but is important as it changes the pacing on how enemy units engage and push back against your team. These changes influence the narrative by shaping your decisions. Sure, you’d like to knock out the enemy artillery battalion that’s been skulking in the enemy rear, but you really need to deal with the armored scout force currently in our assembly area first.
The upgrade kit also changes the way the tactical combat plays out. The change is not just in unit classification as armored or soft targets, but the way the number of combat dice are calculated and, in my opinion, improves the play of the game. If you are a diehard fan of the Tiger Leader game, you’ll want to add the boxed upgrade kit to your collection as the components are the same high quality as the original game. For the casual player, you will still benefit from the rules, but the free download set may better suit your needs.
Check out Derek Case’s review of the original Tiger Leader:
Armchair General Score: 90% for boxed kit. 85% for download kit.
Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play): 5
Ray Garbee has been 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.