Wars of Ozz Review

Sometimes you just need a break. Historical miniature wargamers have a reputation of being the most serious and passionate of players, perhaps exceeded only by those who imbibe in Warhammer 40K. You wanna argue about the ballistic characteristics of Stormbolters? How provincial, when you could be talking about which pattern flag the Russian Pavlov Grenadier Regiment flew in 1812 at Borodino and how many nails it took to secure it to its staff!

If that’s where you’re at, then it’s time for some good, tactically realistic, don’t have to think too much, fun wargaming, lest you find two white coated churls at your door with a straight jacket. If this sounds like you, Dr (PhD type) Retired Colonel John R “Buck” Surdu and Old Glory Miniatures honcho Russ Dunaway have just the prescription. It’ll cost you $26.00 US payable to Sally 4th Games or Old Glory 25’s (plus the cost of any miniatures), but it does guarantee two – three hours of gaming therapy, complete with chuckles galore.

It’s called the Wars of Ozz.

Behind Zoraster’s Curtain

Wars of Ozz (hereafter just Ozz) is a new miniature wargaming system consisting of both rules and miniatures, recreating the post-apocalyptic conflicts between the various countries and factions that inhabit the world of Frank Baum’s Oz, as in the Wizard thereof. However, the game seems to be more inspired by the 2013 Disney prequel flick Oz the Great and Powerful as opposed to the original Judy Garland film. And that film does take its cue from Baum’s books which indeed include many of the factions recreated in what can only be described as black powder meets magic. These include Munchkin Country, Winkie Country, Quadling Country and Gillikin Country, but in the books there were other races and separate nations bordering Oz such as the Kingdom of Ix and Mifkits.

All the proceedings needed to place these mighty legions into battle can be found in a full color glossy rule book to the tune of 118 pages. Now that might sound a bit much for a game that promises play to conclusion in two – three hours, but the secret is that this hefty tome is more of a one-stop-shopping book covering this mythical universe in its entirety, of which actual rules provide only a small part. Further, the text is put together in painstaking outline style and is replete with lots of colorful charts and tables, reminding me of the diagrams in miniature ancient wargames rules such as Field of Glory where the position of each and every stand is laid out for every possible battlefield consideration. 

In fact, the actual rules run only from pages 47 – 77, so about 30 pages. The biggest section is actually a full reference encyclopaedia, running from pages 8 through 46. Here you will find everything you ever wanted to know about the ancient apocalypse (sorry, no Zombies) that started this whole mess, a history of the resulting wars and then detailed information about each of the four great combatants to include precise data on their various military organizations.

Outlying lands such as the Imperial Estates or the Pollywamps of the Bottomless Swamp (really, not making this up) are also covered, as well as mini bios of various political and military leaders hanging about. Take Quadling General Hanz von Guufling for example:

Hanz is the oldest of the three Guufling brothers. Due to the influence of his father, Hanz has a commission as a General of the Army for the Southern Quadlings. Hanz has no military experience, and his training comes from playing with toy army men in his father’s estate. Although not extremely brave, due to his childhood years of maneuvering his toy armies around his miniature battlefields, he is a more than competent tactician. When on the field, he is commonly seen with an ice cream cone in his hand.

Otherwise, there are complete army lists for all combatants and their leaders, to include very precise uniform information. I mean seriously, where else are you going to find that Munchkin Light Artillery wears yellow coats with white vests and trousers, red facings, armed with carbines and servicing guns on blue carriages?

Well, here, in about 10 pages, to include listings for mercenaries such as Desert Nomadic Cavalry riding Goats. Following that will be another 10 pages of introductory scenarios as well as how to create your own, then five pages on solo play (yowzah, take note other game designers), 11 pages worth of playing aids and charts with the final few pages chocked full of QR codes that will zoom you straight to Ozz online communities or vendors selling Ozz 28 mm miniatures from the full catalogue conveniently tucked away at the end of the book. I also thought an index of images and charts to go along with the table of contents was quite smart.

And speaking of miniatures, the Old Glory supporting product line indicates 70 separate sets including infantry, cavalry, artillery, leaders and specialty sets such as Munchkin Hot Air Balloons and Colonel Hardsole’s Infantry Regiment in Busbies with Command. Prices vary, but $40.00 US will get you 20 infantry figures plus one mounted commander or 11 cavalrymen. For $15.00 US you can get a single cannon with crew while individual personality figures run around $5.00 each. The figures are well sculpted and detailed, most a bit on the rotund side to reflect the delectable cuisine of Ozz and boast the traditional rough sculpting style with deep etching and pronounced details. This has been a hallmark of OG figures for like forever, so it should serve them well.

Forward March (along the Yellow Brick Road)!

I don’t have any of the Ozz minis, but I do have wargaming base extensions and a LOT of Tricorne and Napoleonic style figures, so I was able to play a couple or three games with the system, one brigade vs another, which is the recommended command for a single player. Ozz games usually have no more than a division per side. I did not readily see any scale information, but as regards figure mounting it seems for infantry and artillery the stands are two inches by two, with four foot or two horse per stand. Artillery stands have a single gun and five crew. Infantry and cavalry regiments both have five stands each, with one permanently attached leader, and Old Glory conveniently packages their Ozzian wares exactly that way. Like artillery, other leaders are on their own single stand.

Otherwise, the game plays pretty much like most other horse and musket games when you get to the basics of movement, fire, melee and unit characteristics. For the latter, combat formations are rated for Marksmanship, Melee, Resolve, Elan, Luck, Spells and Damage accrual. As an example, foot, horse and senior commander stands can take four hits of damage and survive, but each artillery figure only one. Movement includes rules for marching, changing formation, wheeling and so on, while the combat processes address things like range, weapons types, terrain effects, line of site and the like. There is, however, a unique nifty little chart that not only randomly assigns special attributes to leaders such as, say, a +1-die roll modifier for melee, but also an appropriate battlefield sobriquet. Three-towed Dean the Berserker anyone? 

But there are two aspects of the rules that IMHO really make the game shine, the first involving magic. Sure, you would expect a game with witches and wizards to have magic somehow integrated into play, and Ozz does not disappoint. After all, Ozz can be played as a point based game, and different types of spells can be purchased for 10 points each and assigned to any witch or wizard present. This is above and beyond two spells randomly assigned free for unnamed sorcerers or those inherent to named mages. Here we are talking about creating a six-inch square of poppies that halves the movement of enemy forces marching thru because they suddenly become sleepy. The wizard simply rolls less than his or her Spell Number (Glenda’s is nine) for the divination to work, but if a 10 is rolled, catastrophic failure occurs. Think season one of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina where the titular character zaps up something without reading the small print in the magic book. Then another die is rolled for failure impact resulting in inconveniences like the caster turning him or herself into a marble statue for one turn, being able to neither move nor cast spells. As brilliant as it is funny. 

But the really big surprise in the game comes in the form of unit Double Random Activation, something Surdu has evidently used in other games. It takes the place of a sequence of play and works like this. Each turn both sides roll a D6 for each unit on the board, with the die and its result placed by the unit in question. Then a GM takes a shuffled deck of 12 cards which contains six numbered red cards for one side (say, 1 – 6 of hearts) and six numbered black cards (1 – 6 of spades) for the most disloyal opposition. So, let’s draw a card and assume it’s a three of hearts. Then any and all units on the red side that have a die showing “3” are activated and immediately may move, shoot, cross bayonets, rally, etc, etc. When finished, draw another card and assume it’s the four of spades. Alas, there is no unit on the black side with a die reading “4” so nothing happens, and a third card is drawn. This happens until the entire deck has been drawn and all formations of both sides have had a chance to fight… unless you add in a single joker as card 13 which immediately finishes the turn if drawn even if only one unit from one side has activated.

This one process makes Ozz a whole lot closer to reality than many purely historical wargames and I like it. Moltke said no plan ever survives initial contact with the enemy while the intuitive Napoleon marginalized extensive planning altogether, writing “first we give battle, then we see how it goes.” He placed a premium on generals he considered ‘lucky’, those who could exploit or rectify the unexpected and thus grasp victory. The activation system forces players to do the same thing. Planning is very secondary to the ability to react and this is the very essence of tactical Napoleonics and even combat today. Not bad for a game where overweight, height challenged troops are the mainstay of your miniature army.

Victory Tattoo at Emerald City

What can I say? Wars of Ozz works as advertised, and the randomness of the Double Activation process really impressed me because it seemed to make play a lot closer to real life than the colorful, plump troops might suggest. I also liked the way Ozz specific chrome was overlaid onto what was essentially a musket and sabre game with fantasy figures. Dunno why, but the fact that casting magic spells can have unforeseen, negative consequences on both the user and his army seemed genius to me and made the supernatural concept almost scientific in nature. It was sorta like playing around with hitherto unknown laws of science and nature without proper testing, so oops. About the only negative was the way the rules were organized in the book, as I would have put the Activation process first as if it were a proper sequence of play. A mere trifling.

But outside that and more importantly, Ozz came across as yet another game useful in recruiting new blood into the hobby, younger folks where Warhammer 40K is the default word for ‘wargame’. Despite its sceptics, this is one notable strength of the hobby’s 800 lb gorilla, Flames of Warhammer. It’s simple, has a mild WH40K feel and is just a small step away from more serious historical gaming. But as sexy as a platoon of German Sturmgeschutze might be, mud, rust and forest green camouflage are not as eye popping as the cavalcade of color seen with Zoraster’s Guard Infantry Regiment or some really, no kidding, vicious looking Pumpkinheads. Those hues get people to the table and the rules managing slightly whimsical fantasy figures across mystical terrain often keeps them there.

By George, I think Buck and Russ might just be on to something.