It’s Bolt Action Jim but not as we know it.
Achtung Cthulhu is the twisted child of Modiphius Entertainment. H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937 so the setting is not ‘canon’ Cthulhu but the familiar overarching theme is bolted onto the World War 2 setting. Broadly there are British and Americans up against the Nazi Black Sun organisation (Cthulhu magic), loosely cooperating with the Nachtwolfe (alien tech) and Mythos creatures (tentacles). Shadows Over Normandie is a licensed boardgame series set in the same alternate universe. In the boardgame most counters are squads of about 5 ‘beings’, vehicles are individual counters, Cthulhu itself is a huge blob covering several game squares.
There is also a fan created Achtung Cthulhu Bolt Action mod called Bolt Achtung! The points values have not been tested to extremes but it includes the key models from the Modiphius range as well as spell casting (with the risk of the caster being lost in the attempt). It also models some larger Cthulhu creatures that are not in the Modiphus universe. Naturally all the regular Bolt Action and Konflikt 47 goodies can be shoveled in.
Returning to the official release; Achtung Cthulhu Skirmish is not a skirmish set of rules but is designed to play with several squad sized units on each side. A Cthulhu force could get away with monsters, possessed, summoners and the odd megalomaniac nut job but could equally well be built around a core of regular German troops. The Allies only have a handful of special units and will mostly comprise standard human troop models. There are no Soviet lists but the Allies could easily be fielded as Desert or Far East troops. The core German units could instead be Japanese or Chinese Warlord. This is excellent for the Bolt Action or Konflikt 47 player who will already have the nucleus of a playable army. The role playing types will not be so happy as they might be in possession of a few character models and an assortment of ‘gribblies’ but will need some serious assembling and painting to build a force for Achtung Cthulhu Skirmish.
The Skirmish rules are based on Dystopian Legions; a Victorian Science Fiction setting. Dystopian Legions is no longer officially supported but the rights are owned by Warcradle, a trademark of Wayland Games. The rules and army lists for Dystopian Legions are still available as free download PDFs. Unfortunately the cards which are a key but not essential element to game play are not available. The Achtung Cthulhu cards could be pressed into service as an alternative. An American Regular GI is 25 points in Achtung Cthulhu Skirmish, a British Regular lineman in Dystopian Legions is also 25 points and the stats of each are identical indicating that borrowing between the lists is feasible. The only vehicles each side has in Cthulhu is a truck, half track and a medium tank. The Dystopian Legions setting includes drones, armoured infantry and light tanks that might be a source of additional goodies for the Nachtwolfe.
Modiphius have released an alternate rules set Achtung Cthulhu Combat, also as free downloads. This is billed as a slightly simpler game system with the same units but a differing combat dice system and different point costs for models. Mechanics in Cthulhu Combat are more in common with the Bolt Action rules making it easier to adapt Bolt Action or Konflikt 47. Cthulhu Combat has no vehicles and less magic but more goodies for the Nachtwolfe. Ranges are different; a M1 Garand has a 24″ maximum range in Skirmish but 12″ short and unlimited long range in Combat (some weapons are penalised outside effective range but not the M1). They share the same Mythos theme in that deploying more Cthulhu-like units (by either side) will push up the Mythos level leading to an increased chance of bad things happening to random units. As the Mythos level rises there is also a chance of a mist rolling in which restricts visibility; to the benefit of the Black Sun player who has access to specialist close combat units. Players take turns activating units but in Skirmish melee only takes place after all activations. This means that several units can load into a single combat and a few troop types (vehicles and flyers) can run back out of it. The Bolt Action activation could easily be jammed in and some of the order dice effects map across to Achtung Cthulhu model conditions.
To try out the system the Skirmish rules will be used together with 3 scenarios from the Secret War Operations booklet which is a also a free download. Some of these scenarios use relatively few models and look to be more trouble setting up that the limited gameplay predicted. These 3 scenarios use a 4′ square board and the same terrain as both forces fight over a ruined monastery. The Black Sun here are Black Tree fallschirmjäger. The Americans Warlord Marines, the Commandos Warlord and Black Tree Paras. The gribblies, heroes and villains are Modiphius. The Modiphius models take some getting to the table as almost everyone has at least 1 part to glue onto the main body. The alien Mi Go have at least 5 pairs of limbs all of which need gluing on although as aliens one could leave some sets off or add a few more. In many of the non-human casts it is not too important exactly which bits go where as long as it all holds together. Some tweaking was required to fit the force layouts to the models available. The image below shows that for the human models Modiphius are close enough to other 28mms but are more slender.
The first game has relatively small forces trying to control 2 objectives each within 1 of the central ruins. Here we see both sides deployed and ready for the off. The 2 sets of smoke are a Mythos effect and provide cover throughout the game. Even without these there is a good deal of cover which should give a benefit to the Cthulhu player as he relies more on close combat troops.
Both players rush forward. The Allies grasp both objectives but the Black Sun pile a unit of Servitors (tentacled possessed ex-humans) onto the rightmost objective. They were unable to wipe out the Allied defenders so that objective remained contested. An attempt to simultaneously overrun the other objective with Mythos ‘Deep Ones’ failed leaving the Black Sun a unit down and the Allies controlling 1 objective. The Servitors sorted out the remaining humans around the other objective leading to control on the following turn. Still with points gained for every turn of control the Allies kept to their early lead and pulled off a win.
Although the Black Sun had 2 spellcasters no spells were successfully cast. In retrospect command points could have been spent to increase the chance of spell casting. Most spells are of short range meaning that getting into position to cast spells means risking the expensive spell caster. Casting spells increases the chance of bad Mythos events occurring so a player could cast spells with no game effect beyond increasing Mythos events. This seemed bad form so was not taken advantage of.
The second game expands both forces. The Black Sun are trying to push forward into the Allied side of the table. The Allies are trying to destroy Black Sun units. Both sides have reinforcements that arrive on random turns. The Black Sun happened to draw more early doors units than the Allies. The Servitors move up making some use of cover.
They are now well past the centre point and taking some casualties but being already dead do not see this as a big problem.
The Servitors hug the hard cover for a while but eventually come out. That machine gun team is about to take an early bath. The real problem for the Allies are the purple worms mid screen. They burrow so avoid terrain are built hard and hit hard.
The Black Sun are through. The paras are tough but not that tough and the worms make a mess of them. Chaos hounds are also running up and the Black Sun commander can be seen just moving out of the ruins. It all seemed in the balance for a while but when the worms hit it all went to pot.
The final game in the set of 3 uses less models but a higher points count as the Allies field a tank. Both sides are trying to inflict maximum damage on each other. There is more wiggle room in what to field and the Black Sun buy spells for augur (a die re-roll bonus) and a level 2 summoning. The summoning spell is a no-brainer as summoned creatures do not count as part of the player’s force size and could lead to a new unit every turn. Bought from the lists a unit of 3 Nightguants costs 105 points. A Black Sun Canon with a level 3 spell book costs 130 points, has a better than 50% chance of summoning Nightguants every turn and has several other useful command benefits on top. In a matched game the Allied player would want to deploy at least 1 sorcerer with the level 1 ‘sever control’ spell to stand any chance against summonings.
The tank rules work more logically. It can spew out a ton of firepower (which might well all miss). It can be attacked in close combat (and some of the Mythos beasts could chew it up) but not fight back. It can pull out of melee if not destroyed beforehand but keeping just out of enemy charge range is a good plan. Other friendly units can also hose down the melee attackers with firepower if they have not already activated. A much bigger danger to tanks are anti-tank weapons. In this game the Black Sun have panzerfausts and the tank wisely spends much of the game staying away from them.
The Black Sum move up using Mythos and summoned creatures to soak up the Allied firepower. Once the gribblies get into close combat Allied losses become unacceptable. The Black Sun troopers keep out of the blood bath and provide long range fire support.
The Black Sun commander is exposed and is hosed down by the tank. The tank is now close enough for the Black Sun troopers to move forward and light it up with their Panzerfausts. As the tank is a massive points sink this now pushes the game into a Black Sun victory.
The Achtung Cthulhu Skirmish system does work and at the price (free) it is hard to argue with. Some gameplay gripes should however be aired.
There is a good deal of randomness in the game (not necessarily a bad thing). In general 4+ is good on the dice but rolling a 6 may give a bonus. The mortar only killed 1 figure in 3 games and usually missed by a considerable distance due to the indirect fire deviation rules. Grenades use a similar deviation mechanism and due to the risk but possible high damage wherever they hit were not used in any of the games.
The command system which gives a bonus to units within range of a commander does work but is a layer of detail that can easily be forgotten. As it increases the potential of success spells are more likely to be cast, units are better in combat and morale failures less likely. This is all going to prolong the game. The morale rules have limited effect. It is fairly easy to fail morale and this affects shooting and melee. It is also relatively easy to regain morale levels at the end of a turn. Failing a morale test will add 1 and only 1 shaken result. A unit can have a greater chance of failing but will only lose the the 1 level in a single test. A unit of shaken 3 or greater will rout but because of the ability to recover this requires several independent morale tests in a single turn or bad recovery dice rolls. Routing is possible but no units routed in any of the 3 games as they tended to ‘get better’ before dropping to rout.