V-Sabotage originally debuted in 2016 under the title of V-Commandos. At the time it was an unknown game from an unknown publisher. It received a small amount of positive press but mostly was content operating in the shadows, white-knuckling a KA-BAR and waiting to strike. That initial push was enough to gain some momentum which publisher Triton Noir rode into a follow-up crowdfunding campaign to great success. Now this World War Two stealth game has miniatures. Now it has a new expansion. It’s time to take another look.
The promise of V-Sabotage is Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood stalking through a castle and gunning down half a division of Wehrmacht soldiers. It’s Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson sneaking into a mansion and tipping a powder keg. Shadow and lead, klaxons screaming, explosions in crescendo.
This is my types of film and this is my type of game.
Everything is anchored off a notion of stealth. Missions begin quiet, commandos sneaking around German bases and sites of interest as they search for important documents or plant explosives. The enemies are run through simple random movement patterns while players spend action points each turn. It’s a pretty lean system. You move tile to tile and every time you come into contact with a guard, you roll a die. On a one or a two you’re spotted and the alarm blares.
This happens every mission. It’s somewhat unavoidable. There are few ways to mitigate this roll and it’s even worse when encountering a larger contingent of troops. With the klaxons sounding foe spawn points are doubled and everything gets worse. The only way to ease the pain is to manually de-active the alarm – which usually requires cutting through a wall of Nazi soldiers. And you may only flip the siren off once per scenario.
The stealth system is both the most interesting and weakest element of V-Sabotage. It’s the Maginot line that divides players, instantly turning some away while attracting others. There is great tension in the format, requiring agents to carefully plan their movement, sometimes remaining patient as they wait for a guard to vacate a room before progressing. The main issue is that it’s very uneven, very unpredictable. This translates to an equally erratic difficulty level.
Your only tools to aid in stealth are silenced weapons. These options are rare and found on just a couple of starting commandos. This is disheartening as it whittles away at some of the broader choice and provides a poorly weighted initial decision. Some players will quickly identify just how strong the suppressed Sten and Colt 1911 are, relegating very interesting characters to second fiddle – such as the crafty explosives expert or gifted sniper.
That lopsided decision is enforced through the game’s difficult nature. This is a very tough experience. It lives up to its loose thematic connection to the Commandos video game series from Eidos Interactive. That title was brutal. Sometimes it felt like sticking your hand in concertina wire. V-Sabotage doesn’t quite say ‘hold my stein’, but it’s measurably close.
This can be enraging if you’re not aligned with the core tenet. The ruleset is pretty streamlined, everything from movement to attacking is straightforward and logical. It’s not a simulation or overly concerned with presenting detail. Enjoyment is found not in exercising great strategic flex, but in a more laid-back stance of appreciating the emergent WW2 commando story.
It can feel wild at times, and this is when V-Sabotage is at its best. The round’s random event draw can result in absurdities such as aircraft strafes that wound combatants, nearby explosions that muffle sound, and the unfortunate arrival of unexpected adversaries. When things swing your way, you must seize the opening and make a dash for it. When they don’t, well, sometimes you have to hop in the machinegun nest and open up with the MG42 until it overheats.
Despite this commotion, there is a very defined and structured feel to this design that it can’t drift away from. It’s not always as chaotic or loose as I’d like. In fact, it can feel small. The maps are confining and typically only offer a couple of chokepoints to decide between. Even the larger tiles don’t feel as if you’re running across open tarmac or fields. It’s a very different tone to hidden movement games such as Specter Ops.
Events also feel as though they’re somewhat controlled. The range of outcomes is not completely unhinged. The map doesn’t alter unexpectedly, and I can’t recall ever muttering ‘my god’ under my breath. There’s a clash in tone between a measured Euro-style puzzle with the chaotic dice-based resolution and events that won’t sit well with certain audiences.
The restricted nature of the environment and mechanisms also was reflected in the components through the lack of miniatures.
Was, I say.
The miniatures set is now an optional add-on. It’s a big box, as big as the base game. This transforms V-Sabotage from a really interesting modest artifact to a full-blown representation of the hobby’s current state. I don’t blame Triton Noir as consumers continually asked for such a thing.
The style of this game is great. The tiles are wonderfully bright yet still sincere and the box cover is fantastic. The tokens representing the commandos and guards are also very solid. They present a top-down perspective and punch the Commandos nostalgia button. You don’t need these miniatures. I was ready to dismiss them before I even cracked the box.
But damn, they are quality figures. The detail is great. I was actually surprised how much oomph they added to the experience. They present another node of detail that helps bring the small maps alive. These are a legitimate addition to V-Sabotage which some degenerates such as myself will appreciate.
I’m still not 100% comfortable with the change, however. The big cost – besides labor and storage space – is that they don’t perfectly integrate with the game’s systems. Enemies spawn every round through tokens randomly drawn from a bag. These tokens are the units themselves. You pluck an STG-44 guard from the bag? Then you slam that little fascist down and keep the trigger warm. With miniatures, you now need to manage an entirely new sideboard. The initial impression is awful.
V-Sabotage does not take terribly long to setup. It’s one of the advantages of the small maps actually. You just grab a few tiles based on size – the specific illustrations on them doesn’t matter for the scenario – place some guards, and setup your objectives. This board adds another step of digging all of the minis out of their tray and placing them on the appropriate space. Then, you have to perform an additional maintenance action each time you spawn a soldier.
Fortunately, it reaches its onerous peak quickly, and then begins to subside shortly thereafter. The annoyance of this sideboard will diminish, and it all becomes second nature without pause. The increased requirement for table space doesn’t go away but the game itself is not a hog in this regard.
There is also a new level of silliness reached if you have any of the game’s expansion content, including Resistance and Secret Weapons. If you want miniatures for that material, you need to buy an expansions miniatures pack in addition to the base game miniatures set. Now you’re talking about four or five boxes on your shelf and a great deal more expense.
I’ve flip-flopped on the miniatures expansion multiple times. It slows play, at least initially, and makes the game feel somewhat overwrought, but it also enhances the atmosphere and juices presence. There are some nice small bits as well, including 3D doors and stellar MG bunker pieces. It’s unfortunate in that it exists in this uncomfortable space that most expansions reside, where I’d prefer to include its contents when playing but by merely existing, the additional material is a mental hurdle to overcome.
The Ghost extension on the other hand is mostly poppies. The contents can be tossed in the base box to save space. The new operations and event cards can be added to existing pools without issue. The new modes of play are great.
The main attraction is likely XP mode. This allows your commandos to gain new abilities as they complete objectives. It doesn’t require campaign play or multiple sessions, instead offering bennies as you accomplish sub-objectives in longer operations. It maintains difficulty by including new danger tokens which are shuffled into the enemy bag. This adds a rising pressure to play that creates a more substantial arc, often supplementing the chaotic nature of the design and allowing for just a little more space for creativity to operate.
The Lone Wolf option for solitaire play is interesting. It’s really a curiosity, however, as most will get along just fine running multiple commandos solo. The final module is a campaign option. Some may appreciate the ability to link many operations and see their commandos develop over time. There’s a slick medal system and achievements you can acquire, expanding your suite of abilities. I think, however, that this addition undermines the strength of V-Sabotage.
You see, this game is now in a weird spot. Triton Noir followed up the initial V-Commandos design with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice. This is an excellent, big box campaign game with a core stealth system that is an iteration of the V-Sabotage framework. It’s an improvement in a couple of small areas that allows for more sophistication in enemy response with only a touch more procedure.
Besides having a more rad Hollywood WW2 setting, V-Sabotage maintains an edge on Assassin’s Creed by not restricting play to a lengthy many-session campaign. It’s built from the ground up as a single evening experience, hitting its mark in 1-2 hours. Marring that quality by adapting the system to a campaign structure is not overly desirable, although it’s difficult to criticize the decision since it’s an optional module in the otherwise stellar Ghost expansion.
I’m thankful for this second edition of V-Commandos. It’s been renamed to V-Sabotage and presented with a suite of extras that in some ways enhances the product. My appreciation stems from the push to reflect and critique this game once more. There is a core essence here that is expressed in a fulfilling way. It’s a solid interpretation of cinematic WW2 special operation films, presenting quirky resolutions and undulating events. The richness of setting and commitment to classic influences is right on target, and I’m here for it. Yes, there is some vertigo in the stealth system that undermines the design’s ceiling, but it’s a quality that doesn’t undercut the base pleasure derived from a rather unique experience.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.