Following on from my Indie round up last year, I thought I’d narrow it down to only five games this year. I’ve also limited the choice of games to wargames. My intention here is to showcase a few wargames that are opening up their appeal by making themselves more accessible to all gamers and not just the complexity and detail hungry grognards.
Not all of the wargames listed are considered “gateway games” into the genre, but I think they exemplify a move towards wider appeal and aesthetics rather than hiding behind the obscurity of dusty old wargaming ethics.
Anyway, I like to think of myself as a bit of an everyman pioneer making small steps into the mysterious and often impenetrable genre of wargaming, so take my hand and I’ll walk you into some of rare pleasures hidden away there.
A PC bound implementation of a tabletop miniatures game, one which automates the quite complex rules at play and wraps it up in a beautifully simple interface. Easy to play, pushing forward your photorealistic armies (the actual sprites used are photographs of actual hand painted miniatures) and routing your enemy.
The basic game covers the Ancients era, so you have the Romans, the Carthaginians and the Greeks to play with, but with its modular design, several expansion packs have been released to cover conflicts up to the Medieval period and I believe expansions covering the musket toting era of Napoleon are in the works.
The beauty of the game relies on the simplicity of the play mechanics, but delivers the depth based on the complexity of the interaction between the unit types and their manoeuvre on the battlefield. The ‘jewel in the crown’ is that the PBEM (Play by EMail) like Multiplayer is integral to the game. Issuing challenges to the Field of Glory playing public is very easy, and the game provides a seemless system for managing the games you are involved in.
Recent updates to the engine allow users to build their own armies (using the Digital Army Generator – DAG), and a scenario editor is provided for custom community battles to be built and distributed. Since release, the game has evolved swiftly into a very attractive battle engine for pitting Ancient and Medieval armies, against other players as well as the AI.
I’m as surprised as you that this game is in here. Even the grognards call most of Gary Grigsby’s games “monster games”. However, when I sat down and slowly made my way through the tutorial and then jumped into a straight forward three turn scenario (The Road to Minsk), the game plays out in quite a straight forward and manageable way.
The game has an immense amount of detail and complexity under the hood, and the UI isn’t always as palatable as I’d like, but a novice wargamer can gain a great deal of pleasure without having to take a month off work to read about and understand it all. I think quite a lot of the subsystems (supply, air support etc) can be set to automatic – so the player can spend their time focussing on the manoeuvre warfare.
Based on previous Grisby games, the interface is a major step forward in terms of ease of use and accessibility. Aesthetically, its not the prettiest game in this list, but it does a good job of presenting the scale of the conflict when pitting the might of the German War Machine against the sheer size of the Russian defence of the Motherland.
I’d pitch this game as one which will yield further depth once you become comfortable with wargaming, you can play through it at the shallowest level and still get something from it, but it should grow with your interest in wargaming.
Battlefield Academy is a turn based tactical game, and graphically one of the more approachable games. With a rather cartoon-like super deformed style, moving unit around the map and seeing the attacks play out in an overhead 3d view is very rewarding. The comic book style story plates and fonts add to the schoolboy play room feel.
The scenarios are well designed, often have multiple objectives and you can mix up your troops composition by “buying” in different troops at the loadout screen. The UI is very intuitive, movement and special attacks are a right click away.
I can’t stress how approachable the game is, yet the depth and respect given to the source material delivers a very playable wargame. Again, the Slitherine Multiplayer mechanism is available to this game as well – so it supports the PBEM like play similar to Field of Glory – adding to the longevity of the title. With the recent expansion, Blitzkrieg France, the game is shaping up to be another accessible and attractive wargaming engine for years to come.
In terms of presentation Decisive Campaigns: The Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris (WtP) is the cream of the crop this year. The map and chits are aesthetically pleasing, with the artistic representations of the troops really adding visual flavour to the conflict. As a chit shuffling operational wargame WtP makes it easy to roll out quite complex plays, and delivers the information you need in an accessible manner. Once I’d consulted the grognards and found the Secret to Operational Wargaming, I was able to use the tools to really become embroiled in the conflict scenarios available in WtP.
For me, one of the biggest draws of the game is its grounding in historical content. WtP uses Action cards to depict unique situations in the historical battles, and they can be used to alter the grand strategy in interestng ways. If you read through my Battle of the Netherlands After Action Report (Slag om Nederland) you’ll see how the game plays out at the operational level.
With the games predecessor, Advance Tactics: World War II, receiving a re-release as Gold Edition, and the dev team promising further scenarios/campaigns in the Decisive Campaign series, the future looks bright for my wargaming. WtP has PBEM functionality built in, so that once you’ve honed your skills against the AI, you can pit your wits against human opponents.
When chit shuffling is so gloriously good looking its a very approachable and satisfying wargame, that I’d recommend to everyone.
There was a tie for the first position, between this and WtP, BftB nosed ahead at the winning post into first position. Simply because this game is very “smart”. If you can delegate control of your sub-ordinates to an AI that does an excellent job, you’ve got to be impressed. It unbuckles the straight jacket of having to micro-manage every single unit along the chain of command. It affords you the ability to plan and execute your higher strategy, without the time consuming process of shuffling your entire army around the map. More importanly it allows you to react to unforseen events in (pausable) real time! I imagine BftB is the nearest approximation to actual command of troops that we have at the moment.
Putting the smarts aside for while, the game plays out more like a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. Thus, opening the “accessibility” doorway for strategy gamers to come into the wargaming arena. Admittedly it hasn’t got the 3d graphical lure of most RTS games, and it leans towards simulation in terms of detail and data, but what it does deliver is a very playable, beautiful to watch, easy to control operational conflict game based on historical data. Since the AI reacts in real time, and is not scripted, no two games should play out the same, so the replayability factor is good. With pausable real time, turn based gamers should find the system manageable, you can plan all your moves in the pause and watch the results play out in a mesmerising ballet of unit chits.
The game can be quite daunting from its look, and its level of detail on offer, but ultimately you have a very easy to play engine for “what if” conflicts to play out, and they play out at the Commander level. I’m sure this engine could be adapted to cater for all sorts of conflicts across the ages, and I for one would prefer to play out most RTS games at this level, with the sort of AI intelligence on offer in the game.
Please have a read of my BftB After Action Reports to get a feel for how the game plays and how the decisions are made and then amended as the battle unfolds.
This is my Wargame of the Year for 2010, and it is conveniently the most innovative and accessible game for those gamers who might want to take the first step into the world of wargames. Theres also a demo available, and I would urge anyone interested to download and install it and have a go yourself. See it in action, watch the battle dance, make the key top level decisions.