Moe's Game Table: Sherman Leader Review
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games
Game Designer: Rick Martin, Dan Verssen
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $89.99
Dan Verssen Games continues a steady deployment of volumes in their solitaire Leader series at a brisk pace. This time we’re out of the cockpit and back into the tank commander’s seat, in designer Rick Martin’s sophomore outing. Sherman Leader puts you in command of a US armor group, handling its management and planning, before hitting the ground and leading your troops across the European and Pacific theaters.
Contrary to my first taste of the series with B-17 Flying Fortress Leader, I found Sherman Leader (SL) a tight and trim game that was very easy to jump into and enjoy immediately. Nothing against B-17 at all, in retrospect, I find that its density of options and wider array of customization pose an excellent challenge, but one better suited to a long gaming night or weekend. Campaigns in Sherman Leader can be easily played in a shorter evening, making this a great choice for any time.
As I mentioned in my B-17 review last year, the DVGLeader series is a great option for gamers looking for an experience of commanding air, land or sea forces in both WWII and modern settings. While that experience isn’t a super-heavy study sim, the series does a solid job of conveying the pressures of managing and fighting your troops, while remaining really fun games!
Sherman Leader has you fighting across the deserts of North Africa and the countryside’s of Europe, with a chance to relive the historic Battle of the Bulge. But the ETO isn’t your only challenge, as you’ll also contest campaigns in the treacherous jungles of the Philippines, Okinawa, and Saipan in the Pacific Theater.
The components are outstanding, as we’ve come to expect from DVG. The counters are nice and thick, with rounded corners; the terrain tiles are large and numerous, and a plethora of cards representing all of the various units, campaigns and event information. The rule book is well done, and laid out in a fashion that allows you to learn as you go, getting you into the action quickly.
The game board houses all of the information needed to play, prompting you through each step of the game. It serves as your tactical display sheet, where the battles of each campaign battle are fought, and the front advances and retreats as a living entity. Alongside the board is the headquarters sheet, with slots for all of the cards you will use during your campaigns, including commander skill and unit hit explanations. All of this information keeps play moving along at a brisk pace.
After playing the game for a few days I noticed one problem with the game board. While it was nice and flat at first, it showed slight bowing within a day. After a couple of more days on my table, the warping was much more pronounced, causing the terrain tiles to spin and shift around quite easily if I didn’t take care while moving counters around. I know DVG has a neoprene mat alternative to the mounted board, and with those big terrain tiles, I think the neoprene mat is definitely the better option for those concerned about this. So keep this in mind when making your purchase.
Setup is easy; just choose a campaign and objective, randomly place the required terrain tiles, then select your mix of armor, infantry, and support assets with the special operations points allotted. One point here about the terrain, you cannot place impassable hexes at the top or bottom of the randomly generated map. This doesn’t often become a sticking point until setting up jungle terrain. With the very nature of jungle being less conducive to armored combat than the desert or Europe, you’ll find yourself fiddling with more manual intervention when placing these tiles over the others.
Sherman Leader presents essentially two challenges in one game, at both the macro and micro levels. As overall leader, your job is to manage your troops and vehicles, choosing which units fight and against whom, before diving in to lead them on the ground. Afterwards, it’s back to management, selecting replacement units and leaders, while maintaining the battle readiness of existing equipment.
After you’ve assembled your troops, you’ll need to pick who leads them. Every unit rates its own commander, and these come at zero cost in one of six skill levels, from Green to Ace. The campaigns tell you the levels of commander’s available, prior to any upgrades you might wish to pay for.
Commanders are a key aspect of each unit, determining how quickly they act in combat, providing either positive or negative DRMs during combat, while assisting their troops with any special abilities they might possess. As they receive stress in combat, commanders become less effective. The better the commander, the longer it takes for him to reach that negative stress threshold. As they gain experience, commanders automatically upgrade which helps mitigate this.
Additional funds are earned weekly, but you’ll need to husband your forces smartly, since you cannot field everyone for every battle. Units and commanders must be pre-selected and committed to different battles each week. Sometimes you may find yourself short a commander, if you need to send one on R&R to recover from heavy stress. Generally you’re running 1-2 battles per week, possibly up to three, depending on the level of success required for the campaign.
Extra SO points can sometimes be earned after battles, but they’re not easy to come by. I like the limitation of extra SO points here, just as I do the base point system, it’s a simple and abstract way of modeling supply issues without taking a deep dive into bean counting.
A variety of Special Condition and Event cards alter the complexion of both the campaigns and battles. Special Condition cards are drawn at the start of each campaign week and are closely split between positive and negative effects. These can add more enemy units, dice to their attacks, extra SO points, cheaper repairs, or removing stress from your commanders.
Likewise, Event cards factor in before and after each battle. These may allow you to destroy one enemy at the start of the battle, or limit engagement ranges. These cards keep combat conditions ever-changing, and replay value high. Ok, so the battlefield conditions are set and your troops are in order. They’re champing at the bit, so it’s time to lead them in the field!
A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week. – General George S. Patton
Battles take place on a 6×4 hex grid, and generally last five rounds, making the above Patton quote rather fitting. There’s no time for maneuver warfare here, success is gained by joining in the fight quickly and decisively. Friendly units are placed in the bottom row of hexes before randomly placing enemy units along the top two rows. The terrain is fairly open on many tiles, with some light and heavy cover interspersed throughout, along with rivers and roads to contend with. Jungle, as I mentioned earlier, can be a bit problematic when setting up. However, it does bring a whole new set of challenges when playing on it. With heavy cover prevalent throughout and time short, jungle terrain forces you to close range rapidly in order to engage.
Roads give you an extra movement point, a quick way to get units in better positions and range. Desert tends to be fairly open, with very little cover to utilize, increasing the challenge for the player against the superior German tank cannon. You’ll need to move armor forward to engage, dealing with a negative DRM on your attack with your initial movement.
Pre-combat placement allows for some tactical flexibility, as you can move infantry up to two hexes, and AT and MG units once. This lets you put a screening force ahead of your armor, but keep in mind that the enemy gets to move once randomly placed. You will often find your infantry in brawling range, making these meeting engagements short, bloody affairs.
Initiative is gained by fast units, who get to act before slow units. Early on your lower ranked commanders are pretty much all slow, forcing you to take your licks first. As your leaders mature under fire and gain XP, they promote up in skill level and have better modifiers. Once a commander reaches veteran status, they are rated as fast, giving you that important initiative.
Taking your lumps first isn’t always fun, but thankfully your units have a better chance at surviving than the enemy does. Each successful hit is challenged by a defense roll, if the enemy fails that, they’re eliminated. Easy peasy. If there is a successful hit on any of your units, and you fail the defense roll, the result is decided by random chit pull, similar to how it’s handled in Conflict of Heroes.
Damage takes many forms; from No Effect, to vehicle damage, commander’s wounded, infantry casualties, stress, or the unit being outright destroyed, to name a few. As commanders take on stress, they begin to lose effectiveness, most often in the form of negative DRMs. This is where it’s critical in vetting those commanders, and finding which ones can handle stress best before assigning them to your units.
Enemy movement during battle is dictated by a variable die roll on the tactical movement table. When aggressive, the enemy pushes forward relentlessly. A cautious enemy will tend to hold in place, daring you to advance. All in all, the ground fighting segment is a blast, and plays very quickly. Many times you’ll luck out, taking some vehicle damage or a wound. Other times you’ll get chit pulls where commanders get killed on the opening shot. I know, I’ve been there, on more than one occasion. The good thing is the unit does not get eliminated with the commander, they just continue to fight sans benefit that the leader provides. Time to get some replacement butter bars!
At the conclusion of the weeks fighting, you head back to move the campaign along. Enemy battalions conduct their operational movement, advancing or retreating along a dynamic front. Then it’s on to maintenance and replacements to refit your units to start back over, until the enemy is vanquished, or you fail.
On Target For Fun
Ground combat is my jam, and armor will always have a special place in my heart, so I had high hopes for Sherman Leader. After experiencing both failure and success in my campaigns, this one definitely puts steel on target for me. There are enough customization options to give you agency over the composition of your forces and actions in battle, and things flow smoothly enough that you can easily work through a campaign in a few hours.
The Event and Special Condition cards inject a dose of variable chaos, allowing the game to build a unique narrative each time. Battles are simple, quick, and brutal, not requiring any deep tactical prowess, so anyone can jump right in and play.
One of the most entertaining points is how invested you become in the welfare of your commanders. They come into the war as greenhorns and over time they mature into strong leaders, and you really feel it when they are lost in battle. That level of immersion is the mark of a fun game experience to me.
Don’t go into this game expecting a deep simulation, it is not that, nor is it meant to be. Instead, you will find Sherman Leader a quick-playing and fun solitaire game that gives you a taste of the challenge of overall command, and the excitement of leading units into battle. A great way to spend many an evening reliving history!
Company Website: http://www.dvg.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/danverssengames
Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.