Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear from Academy Games.
What is this game about?
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is an entry-level hex and counter game set on the Eastern Front during WWII. It can be played two-player or solo, and it pits the Russians and Germans against each other in a number of scenarios. These scenarios increase in complexity over time, and can eventually feature hidden enemies, epic tank battles, and more. Each mission has a different objective, but common themes include destroying enemy units and controlling key locations on the map.
The tension in Conflict of Heroes comes from the limited actions that units are able to take. Each player can take only one action per turn, and after that action, they must roll a "spent check." For a simple action, like moving, you don't have to roll a very high value, so you are more likely to pass a check and be able to activate that unit again during the round. If you attack, your odds of a unit being spent are a lot higher. But because you're rolling a die, you never quite know what is going to happen, and that can lead to serious excitement. A spent unit is also sometimes still able to perform an action—if that is how a player chooses to use their CAPs, or Command Action Points, which they have a limited number of each turn. (CAPs can also be used to modify die rolls.) Play continues until both sides pass, but with both spent checks and CAPs in play, you'll need to keep a close eye on your opponent and try not to leave yourself vulnerable to one last devastating attack.
How does it play solo?
To play Conflict of Heroes solo, you need a separate expansion called Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front. The expansion comes with a set of solo missions to play, and with a deck of cards that drives the enemy AI. Each card operates like a mini flowchart—draw a card, move down the list of options on it, and execute the first one that it is possible for the enemy to carry out. From this simple system, a full-on firefight will emerge.
In addition to the cleverness of the AI system, solo missions also include a mission tracker that puts a timer on your game. Some AI cards will cause the timer to advance, and those advancements will trigger some—but not necessarily all—of the special events on your mission tracker. You never quite know when a mission will come to an end, which makes the firefighting feel all the more desperate.
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear features one of the coolest AI opponents I have ever encountered. I love the card system—not only is it easy to use, but it is challenging. In this game, the AI will make use of cover, flank you, and generally make smart decisions. The designers have also created ways for the enemy to have hidden units by placing "rumored" enemies on the board that may or may not be real. I am truly delighted by what this system has to offer.
If you're looking for an introduction to war games and want a good place to start, then Awakening the Bear might be a particularly good choice for you. The rulebook is long, but clear and full of excellent examples. The AI is also streamlined, and not as intimidating as some of the flow charts you may encounter later in your wargaming journey.
I have one main issue with this game, which is that there are only limited solo missions in the Eastern Front box. The missions you get are entertaining, but they won't last forever, and too many of them force you to play as the Germans (I don't refuse to play Nazis in board games, but it's not exactly my favorite). It is possible to get the Firefight Generator expansion if you need more, but I really dig the official missions. There is some good news on that front, however—several more free missions were released to keep us all entertained during quarantine. I am really looking forward to trying these!
One thing you should note when playing the third edition of Awakening the Bear is that your Eastern Front expansion is entirely compatible with the second printing, but has different hex numbers than 3rd ed. and makes a few references to 2nd ed. rules. This isn't a huge deal, but you will encounter some minor discrepancies when playing, so don't panic.
The other thing I want to note about Awakening the Bear is not exactly a criticism, but more of an observation. If you were to take the mechanisms from Awakening the Bear and apply them to fantasy battles, battles in space, or pretty much any other conflict scenario, it wouldn't make much of a difference. I sometimes wish that weren't the case, because if I'm going to play a game where I am either the Russians or the Germans during WWII, I'd like there to be a bit more weight to my actions. This is the kind of game you play for some simple, tactical fun, not for historical depth. That said, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is a hell of a good time, and I really enjoy playing it.
Do I recommend it?
Definitely. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is a solo classic for a reason. It's also highly accessible for those who are new to war games and want to get their feet wet.
Overall Rating: 4 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.