Over time, this blog has looked at several tactical systems from the perspective of Gun / Penetration interpretation using these two vehicles as a benchmark and today we will be taking Old School Tactical (OST) for a spin. As per previous posts on the matter, I just like tactical games, I do not have particular knowledge of the subject, so treat this as a bit of fun, rather than something to hang your hat on.
OST is a tactical boardgame designed by Shane Logan and published by Flying Pig. Counters represent individual vehicles and squads and a hex is representing 50 metres, so this joins the popular ranks of Squad Leader, ASL, ATS, Band of Brothers, Lock ‘n Load Tactical, Conflict of Heroes and no doubt a bunch of others that I have missed. This article is exploring whether the Tiger and T-34 have an inter-play that delivers the ‘feel’ of what we might expect from combat accounts and testing ground experiences.
We will be looking at how the two vehicles compare and using the stereo-typed example of T-34’s ‘charging’ towards a Tiger to highlight rules and system mechanics. We will also be comparing the Tiger and Panther tanks, simply because it always interests me how designers approach the characteristics of these two similar (in game terms), but different (in real life roles) vehicles!
It is a lengthy post, so bring coffee and nibbles.
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
Old School Tactical is a fairly recent addition to the line up of tactical games and with the core modules to date, we have east front 1941 - 42 and west front 1944. From these, we can get ourselves the three vehicles that we need, an early 76mm T-34, a later T34/85 and a Tiger I. I don’t have the Stalingrad expansion module at the moment (a reprint is due), which contains the T34/85 counter, but I am aware of its values.
Firstly a reminder of what we might expect to see when these vehicles meet. The 76mm armed T/34 really needs to get to point blank range against a Tiger I to stand any chance of a frontal penetration (read none!). Track shots and side shots are important consideration for the 76mm. The up-gunned T34/85 can be expected to take a Tiger I frontally out to between 300 - 450 metres. The Tiger I on the other hand, with that powerful 88/56 gun can be expected to deal with a T-34 frontally at 1800 - 2000 metres.
On the game table, this should translate to player tactics respectively being to get the T-34/76 very close to the Tiger I and trying to get into flank / rear positions and perhaps for the most part hoping to disable it, with anything else being a bonus. The T-34/85 is still obligated to this restriction to a certain degree, though does have some ‘head on’ capability and perhaps can more confidently seek out flanking / ambush positions in the hope of a first time strike success. There will typically always be more T-34’s than Tigers!
Above - The different base fire values of vehicles at close range.
It is perhaps simplistic to talk about T-34 swarming tactics of charging to contact, crew that have survived a contact or two with the enemy, will unlikely want to be part of such a blunt instrument of attack. While Tiger I crews will want to keep some distance between themselves and a T34 and this becomes a question of not just gun capability, but of reading and using terrain, to ensure that open views are maintained and that concealed avenues of approach are negated, so tactical field craft and training become an important factor in the gun / armour equation.
The nature of combat in the game is quite interesting and very playable. All units (including infantry) have attack and defence values. These may be modified by situational factors, but ultimately they are simply compared, attack value against defence value, to get either a positive, neutral (zero) or negative number from the attackers perspective. In essence the combat is differential based.
So, 7 attack factors against 10 defence factors would give an attack advantage of -3. The game has separate attack charts for both infantry and vehicles, which have a range of columns to cover those attacker differentials and a number of rows that accord to the rolling of a modified 2D6, bringing us our element of gun effect variables.
In the above example, the attacker would look for the -3 column, roll two dice and read off the result, which for vehicles fall into a results range of no effect, shaken, broken, damage and knock-out.
Above - just gives an example of two the attack columns, -3 and 7+.
Important to this is the bell curve effect of the 2D6 with 7 of course being an average score of the sum of two rolls. There-after, the higher the die roll, the more effective the result and like-wise, the lower rolls less effective.
It should be noted that in the first module (the 41-42 east front game), there followed criticism that the tank charts were not deadly enough. The release of West Front 1944 heralded version 5.5 of the rules and with it, a slightly more aggressive tank chart, though the differences are quite nuanced. We will be using the updated chart for our examination of the game.
While using columns on infantry attack tables is something we are used to, probably because of the venerable Squad Leader and ASL games using them and so though they can feel ‘natural’ to the player of a certain vintage, it is more unusual for anti-tank performance to be done this way, but I like it very much.
Anyway, on with the hardware aspect of the game. A Tiger I has an anti armour gun value of 16 and a frontal armour defence value of 10. The T34/76 has an anti armour gun value of 7 and a frontal armour defence value of 6.
The T34/76 eventually gets up-gunned (but not until 1944) and up-armoured to an anti tank gun value of 9 and a frontal armour defence value of 7, becoming the T34/85 (We will discuss later where the Soviet 85/53 gun might better sit in terms of attack value).
Just on face value, we immediately note that a gun value of 7 against the frontal armour of a Tiger I valued at 10, would give the attacker an attack value of -3. As one would expect, this is a weak attack and on our charts, even on the best roll (12), the Tiger cannot be destroyed frontally, though there are fairly good chances of softer effects. (i.e. non-knock out) if the attacker rolls 8 or more. See below graphic.
Since we are not just talking about straight knock-outs, but also these softer effects, which make things less clear cut, we will need to look at those softer effects, to see whether this actually affords the T-34 any undue advantage.
Below, are just two of the columns from the chart that relate to this post. The -3 column as described above for the T34 attack at close range, and the 7 or Greater column that the Tiger I will use when attacking a T-34 frontally at close range. The Tiger attack is devastatingly effective.
Each vehicle in the game has a small stats card and this shows how the tanks attack strength and gun accuracy declines over distance. Below, I have included the stats card for the T34/76 1941, which carries the 76.2 / 41.5 gun. Note that its maximum range is 18 hexes (the Tiger I is over 26+ hexes) and that penetration is fairly well held over that range, though accuracy is naturally falling off.
Of significance here are the situational modifiers that can help such an attack and for these we are broadly looking at attacking from a higher level, attacking from an adjacent hex and attacking from within the same hex. Attacking from a flank generally means the enemy armour will be weaker. All of this is of course encouraging us to give due consideration to deployment and use to improve chances of a kill or some other meaningful effect.
What of the T34/85?
Well that gun value of the T34/85 perplexed me a bit. It can be difficult to say with any certainty exactly what factors a designer brings into the mix when designating anti-armour penetration values. Published Penetration / Armour tables are the ideal starting point to measure relative performance, but as to how the variety of special ammunition types, if at all, are baked into the final gun performance, or even if crew performance or muzzle velocity for trajectory is influencing the final mix is difficult to say. (EDIT the designer has since given me an example of how the power of the KV-1 was dropped by 1 point due to ‘all-around’ visibility restrictions and this is the very sort of soft factor variable I am referring to).
In general, the vehicles and their assets, do seem to sit within a reasonable framework of how a gamer might expect the gun / armour relationships to work. A quick check at BGG for a photograph of the T34/85 counter from the Stalingrad game (which I don’t own) shows that tank gets an attack value of 9, which made me wonder why that value is lower than the Pz IV’s 75/48 (value 11) and the Sherman 76 (value 10). In most other tactical games, it sits just above the 75/48, but below the Tiger’s 88/56 and Panther’s 75/70 or if the game system does not have enough headroom between the Pz IV’s 75/48 and the Tiger / Panther guns to insert the weapon in it’s own category, then it typically sits at the same value as the as the Pz IV’s gun, which seems an acceptable reflection of capability).
It is an area of the system that has a notable difference to what I was expecting. If the vehicle was given a gun rating to match that of the Pz IV, then in attacks, it would shift a further two columns to the right to reflect it’s two extra attack points (from 9 to 11).
EDIT .... I have commented on this to the designer and he feels that the T34/85 fire value was set too low and that a starting position (prior to any soft factors that he would manipulate that figure with) should perhaps be 10. Probably the best way to manage this is to simply add one attack point to each attack value along it’s entire range on the stats card or if believing it should at least match the PzIV H 75/48, use that stat card (from the west front 1944 game), accepting that the 75/48 value may have been strengthened to allow for special ammunition. I suppose you could even choose the attack value of 10 or 11 based on whether you want to show the T34/85 crew as being raw or veteran etc in the particular scenario.
Anyway, using the T34/85 as it currently stands (attack value 9), at up to 500 metres (10 hexes), it will destroy a Tiger I on a dice roll of 11+ and get a softer effect on a roll of 7 - 10. If we treat the gun like the German 75/48 (attack value 11), it will destroy the Tiger on a roll of 9+ and get a softer effect on a roll of 6 - 8. So of those two choices, I quite like the latter, but it would be your choice until the designer calls it with a new counter / stat card.
On a separate note, it is also the case that in this game, the Tiger I’s 88/56 and the Tiger II’s 88/71 have the same base firepower of 16 and their stat cards only show some minor variation over their relative attack strengths over longer ranges. At the moment, this doesn’t really matter, as both guns will overpower their targets fairly easily, but the 88/71 was more powerful, though not necessarily more accurate and as some of the Soviet heavies come into play with future modules, the gun value on the Tiger II may come under stress, we will just have to wait and see what the designer does with a JSII and what a JS II / Tiger II firefight looks like and whether the system has a ceiling of effect for the more extreme gun / armour formula, which would be a consideration if this system were to be taken in a more modern period.
Anyway, onto the traditional ‘Tiger trial’ that this blog has employed in the past. We will be taking a lone Tiger I defending across fairly open sights and having three T34/76 charging towards it. The example serves to highlight the impulse process and to evaluate potential outcome, while ignoring the reality that there would be other vehicles and guns involved in such an interplay - probably more T-34’s, maybe a platoon of Pz III’s to protect the Tiger’s flanks and almost certainly some hesitation on the part of the T-34 crew driving frantically into certain peril, but within the limits of what we are trying to achieve ...... here we go!
We will take a Tiger I, three T34/76 1941 (with the 76.2 / L41.5 gun), with generally open views from the Tiger’s position and the T34’s starting their run-in at 12 hexes, representing a 600 metre dash to close on the Tiger.
Each turn, the game manages actions from a pool of randomly generated Impulse Points, but for our purposes, we will give a pre-determined Impulse Point level of 3 to the German Player and 6 to the Soviet Player and reduce the Soviet Impulses by 1 for each loss, accepting that this is just representing a small slice of the action and that other impulse points are being spent in relation to whatever else might be urgently going on within the battle area. We will dice to see which side gets the initiative and can claim the first impulse.
Note, the players take it in turn to spend an impulse point to do ‘something’ with a unit and over the course of several impulses, several impulse points can be spent on the same unit ..... however, there are three particular actions that are described as ‘limited’, Move, Fire and Assault Move (to enter melee). A unit can only normally perform two of these particular limited actions per turn, so the unit could fire and move, fire and fire or fire and assault move, though note units may not move and move, only one movement action is allowed in a turn. Within these limitations, a unit can have impulse points spent freely on them, so for example, in a turn, a unit might make several attempts to rally, spending one impulse point each time. It will become more obvious as the play log below unfolds.
Turn 7 (first turn of play ... yes I know! see below)
The Tiger has set up with one flank resting on a wood. The crew only really have three considerations. Firstly, their gun can strike out and harm things just as easily at 12 hexes as it can much closer, so firing often right from the ‘get-go’ is important. Secondly, if compromised, they should abandon the position. Thirdly, within their hex, they should try to find some better cover.
The T-34’s have two considerations. Do they go for an all out ‘charge’? They will have to suffer at least 2 turns worth of firing on the way in and the Tiger will be firing twice each turn. Secondly, should they use the two woods to not only cover their advance, but also to occupy the woods and while getting their protection of +2, use the time to get off some shots against the Tiger and see if those ‘softer non-kill’ hit results feel right for the situation.
A few trial runs showed that the T-34’s would typically be destroyed on the way in if they just charged. The Tiger will hit on a 6+, which is fairly easy to get and you would modify the roll by +1 if you chose to make the Tiger crew elite. It is fairly safe to say that if the Tiger hits a T-34, it will perish.
The next test had the T-34’s advance into the woods to take cover and then fire from there. This was really interesting. The +2 of the woods does not really help the T-34’s against that mighty 88mm gun, but the T-34’s firing does open up the opportunity that though the Tiger cannot be penetrated, it may suffer some softer effects. The odds are still stacked against the T-34, but this does at least give it a chance of doing something before it is destroyed! On one of my runs, the T-34 rolled a 12 and inflicted damage (randomly selected to be a broken machine gun, but it could have been much worse) and forced the crew to take a test against being shaken, which the Tiger crew failed. That at least in a bigger scenario could open the game up a bit.
In the book, Tigers in the Mud, there is a very good account of how despite being in a tough tank in which the crew were generally safe, the constant strikes against the armour and noise left the crews nerves somewhat frazzled ... so it is the case that this combat should not be about penetration alone and I like the way that this system deals with that middle ground. The black and white fact is that the T-34 will not penetrate the Tiger 1 frontally, the grey area is that they can impact on the vehicle and this system seems to have that covered rather nicely.
Anyway on with ‘another’ charge, just to show the process;
It is the start of the turn and both sides roll for initiative - The Germans win and so will take the first impulse.
Next roll for how many impulses each side will get this turn, we will fix this as 3 for the Germans and 6 for the Russians, depleting by 1 for each tank lost.
German Impulse - Fire at the middle tank. The range is 12, which needs a 7+ to hit. a 7 is rolled. At 12 hexes, the Tiger's attack value is a massive 15. The T-34 has a defence of 6, so the attacker has a positive differential of +9 and will fire on the maximum attack column (7+). They roll a 6, which is a straight knock-out. The crew tests for survival and fail. The T-34 is flipped to its wrecked side and the Tiger is marked with a 'fired' counter. The loss will drop the number of available Soviet impulses now, simply so that we don't skew the Soviet capacity too much (in the game such a drop is really based upon 5 casualty points).
Soviet Impulse - the right hand T-34 moves towards and into the woods. It takes and passes a bog check and then voluntarily ends its movement and is marked with a moved counter.
German Impulse - The Tiger fires on the tank in the woods. The range is 9 and a 7+ is needed to hit. A 6 is rolled so misses. Had the Tiger been classed as elite, it would have got a +1 to the dice. The Tiger has now taken two actions from the list of limited actions (fire and fire) so is marked used. It will not be able to fire again this turn unless using Intensive Fire, which carries penalties.
Soviet Impulse - The T-34 in the woods fires. The range is 9 and it needs 7+ to hit, but there is a -1 modifier because they have moved. They roll 7 minus 1, so no hit and since they have taken two limited actions (move and fire) the tank is marked used.
But .... let's just take a minute to see what a hit might have looked like. At this range, the T-34 attacks with 7, lowered to 6 because they moved. The Tiger's frontal armour is 10, so the attack would be made on the -4 column. It would need a 9+ to get any effect (8+ if it had not moved). 9 would cause a shaken test, 10 and 11 would cause a broken test and 12 would bring the possibility of randomly generated damage. So there is enough going on here for the Tiger crew not to take their safety for granted.
Let's get back to the action;
German Impulse - They only have 1 impulse point left, they know they will not want to use intensive fire, so instead spend the point to look for better cover within their hex. They fail that test.
Soviet Impulse - the unused T-34 on the left advances to behind the lower woods and is marked 'moved'. They would like to move again, but units cannot move twice in a turn, so they decline to do anything else and the turn ends.
Next few turns ... to cut this a little short, now that the process of impulses, moving and firing has been explained, suffice to say here are the remaining highlights;
The Tiger misses a total of two shots and the tank commander says 'Oh Dear, what a frightful bit of shooting, we must try harder'. This allows the Right hand T-34 to get a hit, which forces the Tiger crew to take a Shaken test, which they pass. They then go on to knock that T-34 out.
With the Tiger now out of Action Points, the remaining T-34 leaves the woods, skirts the fields and ends up in a position behind the Tiger's flank, but with an obstructed view (the farm house) and the turn ends.
Above - who will blink first! It is a new turn and the Soviets get the initiative. Wow - what to do?
At the moment the tanks cannot see each other because of the building hex. To attack the T-34 will need to move first, but the turreted Tiger will be able to use opportunity fire and would simply need a 6+ to hit, so it seems something of a suicide mission.
If the T-34 chooses to pass, the Tiger could either slink off or turn and move to engage the T-34 face on, with good cause to be confident of surviving the encounter.
The gamer in me thinks that the 'chance' of a win is worth manoeuvring the T-34 and hope that it survives the Tiger's fire, but the reasoned player in me that thinks in terms of wanting realistic simulation value, thinks that the tank commander and crew would unlikely take such a Gung - Ho approach, so I decide that the T-34 should spend an Impulse Point to just pass.
In the German impulse, for the same reasons, the Tiger will not advance into harms way and instead will reverse out, taking up a safe position on the road behind the woods.
The trial will end here before a gamey cat and mouse situation develops. Well that was an interesting action, which threw up some good situations and offered a believable account, see the conclusions below.
What about comparing the Panther v Tiger?
Whenever getting a new tactical system, I always look at these two vehicles first, as it is an early indication as to how the designer evaluates design and gun / armour performance. So, as in previous similar posts, we can also have a look at both tanks, which in the real world, considering they have very different build and role characteristics, they have surprisingly similar game attributes, but are designers tempted to make the Tiger the better performing machine, matching their fearsome persona?
What should we be seeing in general terms? The Panther’s typical A/T capability up to around half range should have the edge over an 88/56. At longer range, the 88 will slightly outperform the Panther’s 75.
The Panther’s frontal armour is very efficiently sloped, so although thinner, it has an advantage over the Tiger’s vertical thicker frontal armour, but the Tiger’s flank armour is much superior.
Other soft factors that could play into a comparison are that the Panther was faster, but early models were liable to breakdown and the Tiger I’s tended to have crews that can be thought of as confident and elite. The two tanks had different roles, a situation reinforced by the fact that by the time the first Panther’s were produced, the Tiger battalions had already been dominating the battlefield for more than a year and during that time, were a lone champion in the German reliance on a mobile weapon platform that could destroy enemy heavy tanks at range, gaining a formidable reputation that once created, didn’t really diminish.
In the game, the Tiger’s base anti-tank gun value is 16, compared to the Panther’s 14. With range it remains the case that the penetration value of the Tiger remains better. I would have expected the Panther to start off better, but it matters little, both guns are still impressive and it may be the case the designer is bringing a value of confident and better crews to the Tiger’s factor or ammunition considerations.
Both vehicles have the same frontal armour value, which in game terms is fully acceptable and common across some other game / rules platforms. The Tiger’s flank armour is correctly heavier. So broadly we are all within acceptable expectations and tolerances, with overall performance being fairly evenly pegged and the Tiger being slower, but with a slight edge.
Whether precisely right or wrong on the gun strength, the stats are close enough to be representative and I think many players are happy if the Tiger gives a sense of formidable presence or special status, it just fits in with our stereo-typing, though it is the case that the importance of the Tiger had more to do with the fact that it was available from 1942, than whether it could out-compete the later Panther design, coming in late 1943, itself influencing the subsequent design of the Tiger II.
Overall, I feel that OST is successfully walking that fine line between the demands of accurately representing weapon capability, giving the right feel of tactical warfare and wrapping this up in a particularly concise and user friendly set of rules. These are quite big ambitions and the design overall has done remarkably well in achieving all of this.
The expression of attacks as differentials giving a column on the table to be rolled against is a comfortable process and the range of results within each column brings nuance without (thanks to the help of the 2D6 bell curve) pure luck driving wild swings of fate.
I like the fact that 'soft' factors are sitting next to the pure hard data penetration outcomes and even in our Tiger trial, having the Tiger confidently pulling away at a leisurely pace or being forcibly displaced (the view depending upon which side you are playing!) was a nice story telling touch that fell very naturally out of the system.
The differential column attack system for armour works well. I'm not sure how many systems would actually allow a T34/76 to sit off 300 yards away from a Tiger I and actually have a chance of causing some (mainly psychological) discomfort, but I like that.
Visually, the game is pleasant to use. The counter size and artwork is good and the main combat values on the counters are large enough that older eyes are helped. The large playing boards are, well .... very large and this brings both advantage and disadvantage, but they have become a trademark of the system and so are likely here to stay.
They do a ‘Pocket Battles’ pack, which has some smaller paper maps, that are still large enough to enjoy a 1 map scenario and these are useful for those times when a smaller game space is needed, though of course the bigger board when used with bigger scenarios does bring into play the real nuances of weapon ranges at the tactical level and the inter-relationship with terrain, without little maps sliding everywhere or needing plexi.
The board from the Airborne module that covers Sainte-Mére-Église is a particularly good example of the vista of the big board being second to none, with the accurate portrayal of the town bringing an extra dimension to play. It looks superb as the C47’s approach the town to drop their payloads of paratroopers.
On minor points, I am not a fan of having a turn system that counts down backwards, it is simply not intuitive and seems an unnecessary mechanic, I expect my turn 8 reinforcements to arrive after my turn 6 reinforcements, not before, it is just the way mainstream games have conditioned me to think, so why fly in the face of that? and likewise the strangely named Gut Check in any other gaming terminology is known as a Morale Check and the latter sounds better and less comic like - neither of these two things matter, it just left me feeling ...why!
Everything aside, we now have several WWII tactical systems to choose from and unsurprisingly, there are pro’s and con’s with each and even favourites will not deliver everything that a player might want for their ‘go to’ game, but OST delivers a lot when set against it’s very accessible rulebook and as the system grows to bring in more kit, I feel that increasing numbers of gamers with be pleased with the gameplay. Playing it has taken me back to my early days of enjoying Basic Squad Leader, a compliment for sure.
One thing that Flying Pig needs to keep in mind is keeping the series inventory readily available, so that anyone coming late to the party can buy into the back catalogue. If this is to become a serious series, I feel that if they insist on using the Kickstarter production model, that they also need to do a large enough print run to feed a potentially growing system ...... tactical gamers want access to a varied order-of-battle and it will be the systems that can sustain that over the longer period that will sit in the pole positions of the tactical market.
We have looked at the T34 v Tiger here, a somewhat unfair way to view the very capable T34, but it does help us examine the extremes of the system. In more usual contacts with the likes of the Pz IIIJ and Pz IV f2, the gun / armour differences are much narrower and a greater nuance of play will unfold with these vehicles in play.
When reading the rules one comes across sentences that makes you think what a sensible and easy way to 'that'. I also very much like the sensible way that elevation has been dealt with and the easy artillery rules.
Complexity - The back of the game box does not describe its complexity, so on a scale of 10, calling it 5 would be fine for the first few games and rating it somewhere between Ghost Panzer (Worthington Publishing) and Awakening the Bear (Academy Games) would also be fine. For many, due to the potentially difficult nature of tactical sims, it will hit a sweet spot of complexity. The rules are written in easy to absorb style for those who are used to tactical games and for those who are not, the rulebook is not overwhelming and we are particularly helped by the fact that infantry and vehicle procedures are similar, to the point that bringing armour into your games is straight forward. The problems start (and mostly end) at the very beginning of the learning curve, when playing the first few games. Typical of tactical systems, you need to feel your way through them, but the rulebook can feel a bit disjointed when looking for particular matters that crop up mid play, such as Ambush or Acquired target or when looking for deeper explanation for the modifiers presented on the quick play sheet. There are some throw away comments such as shaken or Broken, units cannot ‘spot’, but it is not immediately apparent at that time, that spotting only relates to off-board artillery fire, so more time is spent hunting than is necessary and most of this could be largely negated by a better index. However, this is really only something that becomes noticeable / frustrating in the first couple of games, as with all tactical games, any investment in rule learning is significantly rewarded later by the replay value of numerous scenarios and modules. So just be aware, things get much easier after a couple of games.
Size - This will either matter or not matter to you. The mounted boards are fairly heavy and large (size 30” x 41”). The east front game (1941-42) has two such mapboards and is a heavy box, the other modules have single boards. The advantage of the big board is the scope of game that can be played over them, having historical maps and also making gun ranges a relevance to play and not having that 'edge of the world feeling'. The disadvantage is that even a small scenario using a small portion of the board still uses a big board and so one must simply have the space to accommodate that board and be physically able to stretch over it. There is a package of ‘Pocket Battles’ that includes two double sided paper maps that are each 11” x 18”, but they are over-priced here in the UK (as is the Strategy Guide) and I imagine that has something to do with the sale being post Kickstarter (Flying Pig - please support your fan base that buys all your stuff .... but does not do Kickstarter! typically because of shipping / import duties etc). The small maps may turn into a useful occasional line.
Solitaire - The box says 2 players and the designer is working on an AI module (as seems to have become an essential designer distraction for some tactical series these days), but as with most 2 player games, this one plays fine solo as it is, with one player just playing both sides well. There is a Hidden Units rule that some scenarios can use, but this can be worked around and the 1944 module has a couple of specific solitaire friendly scenarios, one uses the maps from Pocket Battles and the other uses map 4, these use a very basic AI. Bottom line, the system can be played solitaire without fuss just like many two player games can.
Time - The East front box says 1 - 3 hours and the 1944 West front box says 45 minutes to 5 hours. There are a wide variety of scenarios, so take your pick for the ones that best suit your available playing time, but broadly the game is playable in a single session.
Thanks for staying with this post to the end .... it has been something of a marathon!