John Tiller’s Campaign Series
from Matrix Games
Lieutenant Tekasev advanced his ski platoons across the frozen lake towards the German lines. As he approached the near shoreline, machine gun and shells from 75mm field guns greeted him and his troops. He pressed home his attack. If action such as this is what you crave, have I got a game collection for you? Older gamers will remember a series of games brought out by Talonsoft, starting with East Front. These games have now been released in an updated version in the collection. The original East Front, West Front and Rising Sun were DOS based games, which are unplayable on the newer NT based operating systems, such as XP and Vista. Without going into too much detail, which would be relevant only to computer “geeks”, like myself, this collection allows you to play these games on a newer, faster computer, without having to download additional software, or keep a machine around with Windows 98 as the OS.
This compilation contains all three games, East Front, West Front and Rising Sun on a single disc. The Campaign Series disc contains some 404 scenarios, 21 campaigns and numerous tutorials to get you acclimated to the game system. A complexity scale divides the scenarios. This scale does not rate the difficulty of the game itself, but the number of units to be found on the playing field. For instance, a complexity of “one” denotes that between one and twenty units are involved in the scenario, a “two” denotes between twenty-one and fifty units, up to “ten” where over 750 units are involved. Units range from infantry, to armor, to artillery, and you can even call in ‘air strikes” as flying artillery.
After loading the game onto your computer, you first come to the “title screen”. Here you can choose to go to the 140-page game manual, or play one of the three games. Let’s say you pick East Front. The gamer is then presented with the start screen. Here you make the choice of playing a scenario, a campaign, “Generate Battle” and three editing options. “Generate Battle” is a scenario created by the AI (Artificial Intelligence) on a random basis, that is, its historical significance has been obscured. The three editing controls allow you to customize the scenario, the map and the order of battle as you see fit.
Assuming you choose a Scenario, you are transported to a screen where you can select a new scenario or continue to battle in one scenario already started. The next screen, if playing solo, allows you to choose the side you want to play and whether the computer will be playing with everything on the map, or with “Fog of War” “Fog of War” presents you with a map where the scenery is in place, but not the enemy units. The enemy is “discovered” during the course of you moving your units, either by you stumbling across him or by his using “Opportunity Fire” to attack your units. This can lead to some very nasty surprises during the course of you turn. There is also a control tab to skew the results toward one side or the other. This can be helpful when playing a “Hot Seat” game with an opponent who has more experience.
There are various multi-player modes available, which I will not go into, with the exception of the two-player “Hot Seat” mode. When utilizing this mode of play, the human control will be selected in the scenario screen after selecting “Hot Seat” on the scenario start menu. Here you will be playing against a live opponent, which makes the game even more complex and exciting. Play by e-mail is also available for these games; please consult the game manual for a complete run-down. I will be concentrating on solo play in this review.
After you have selected your scenario, and my advice is to play the tutorials provided in each game to familiarize yourself with the game system. You will see the game map appear on the screen. Take your mouse and travel around the map denoting where your units are located, and if you haven’t chosen FOW, where your enemies are located. At the bottom of the screen is the Tool Bar. This gives you the necessary functions in a push-button mode. To the extreme left is a toggle that switches your selected unit between Fire and Movement. When in the Movement mode, you can place your cursor on a particular unit and drag the cursor to where you want him to go, if there is sufficient movement allowance he will walk or drive to that location. If not, they will stop somewhere between those two points. Taking fire from enemy units can also stop them; if that fire is sufficiently galling they may become “Disrupted” and retreat out of the way.
The third toggle is to load or unload a unit from transport, this allows you to move units around quicker and get them to critical areas. There are twenty-one switches on this bar and each has a short explanation available by holding the cursor above the button. More detailed explanations are available in the game manual. The buttons I use mostly are the two above and the Resolve Assault, Air Attack and Toggle bases buttons, and of course the button ending the present turn.
To conduct an Assault on an enemy unit, you must first be in a hex adjacent to the target unit. With the toggle in “Movement” mode you take the cursor and drag the unit into the occupied hex, an information box appears giving you the Attack and Counterattack factors, you then toggle the Resolve Assault button for a close combat result. In some scenarios, there are air strikes available as off-board artillery. Selecting a target hex and then toggling the air strike button can select these. At the beginning of the next turn a nicely detailed and appropriate aircraft will come buzzing across your screen and attacking the target hex, it will continue to fly off screen, ending the attack. Such attacks generally do little damage but are quite spectacular to witness. The Artillery Dialog button, in the Tool Bar controls not only the on-board indirect fire units, but off-board artillery availability as well. Indirect Fire, like Air Strikes are conducted at the beginning of the following turn to allow for commands to be passed back to the units to prep them for the attack.
As a personal thing, I use the Bases toggle button, which places a nationality base under each unit on both sides. I do this to prevent me from missing one of my units and to be able to clearly see where the “seen” enemy is located. If you are playing without FOW, it will show you where each enemy unit is located when you look at the map. As far as not missing your own units, there is a toggle for next unit. You can start moving, or firing, one of your units and press this button which will carry you to the next available friendly unit. There are also buttons for leaving some action points to be able to fire after moving your unit and to show the firing range of the selected unit. I have not gone into detail on all of the options available to the gamer, as that would make this review prohibitably long.
Here, I believe, a little about the units themselves. The units used in these games are all platoon-sized units, with the exceptions of the leaders, which are individuals. A leader when stacked with units under his command will enhance their firepower in combat and their morale levels, thereby allowing them to take more punishment. When a unit is selected the “Info Box” for that unit is superimposed on the map in the upper right-hand corner. This box contains unit information such as Strength (number of troops or machines); Action (number of action points available to the unit); Assault (base assault value); Defense (the intrinsic defense value of the unit); Fire Cost (the cost in AP’s to fire the weapons); and Morale (the base number which must be “rolled” to remove a disrupted marker from the unit). Morale and Defense values are subject to the terrain the unit finds itself in, as well as leadership. The die rolls required are done in the background by the program.
The game plays in a somewhat “fast and furious” mode leaving the best-laid plans up for grabs once the shooting starts. I have played quite a number of the available scenarios for these games and as yet barely scratched the surface of the fun available here. I can highly recommend this compilation to wargamers interested in platoon level gaming whether from the Axis side or from the Allied side. The original games and their supplemental discs are represented here with scenarios from the early part of the war, the conquest of Poland, the Low Countries and France, then into Russia and through the return to Europe by the Allies in ’44. The Pacific theater is represented by many small land actions in the Island Hopping Campaign. There are also some hypothetical scenarios from the invasions of England and Japan. I cannot recommend this game too highly, for the older gamers, who remember the individual discs and to the new gamers who are looking for a fun game at the platoon level. Happy Gaming!