After the well-received Wargame series, developer Eugen systems is taking us back to World War 2 with Steel Division: Normandy 44. The new setting lets us experience Europe’s most famous campaigns in the close-up, tactical RTS style we loved in Wargame, but it also changes the dynamics quite a bit by rewinding technology by a few decades. Helicopters? Gone. Tactical nukes? Nope. Adapting and thriving on the analog battlefields of the 1940s is going to require some new strategies. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Armor leads the way
There are few things more effective at breaking through enemy lines than an armored pile of trouble. In Steel Division, tanks have a lot going for them. They’re faster than infantry, their on-board machine guns can pin down almost any unit, and their heavy influence on the always-shifting front lines. All together, tanks are the perfect unit for giving the bad guys a big, friendly shove and grabbing up important territory.
Tanks can’t go alone, though. They have poor sight lines and a weakness to surprise anti-armor attacks, so their aggressive moves have to be supported by infantry, anti-armor, and artillery units. The venerable M4A1 battle tank can be a bit expensive for early moves, but in the first minutes of a fight even the often-overlooked M5A1 can help pave the way big advances.
2. Use cover to get to cover
The only thing more important to the infantryman than beans and boots is something sturdy to get behind when the bullets start flying. Every object on the battlefield can give cover to an infantry unit, from a thick hedgerow to a burned-out farmhouse. Mousing over gives you a measure of how good the cover is: a blank cursor is wide open, yellow is just OK, and green is excellent. If infantry units want to live long enough to write letters home, they need to fight from cover.
So far, so easy. But the trick is not only fighting from cover, but maneuvering in cover at all times. After all, a sturdy foxhole isn’t much good if you have to dodge bullets across an open field to get there. In northern France, this means one thing: hedgerows. These lines of vegetation form square borders around almost every field in Normandy, giving your units trails of decent cover to use while they advance to capture the really good stuff.
The best way to use hedgerows is by shift-clicking to chain move orders together. Rather than sending a unit across an open field, click on the hedgerow, then shift-click on the corner, and shift-click again until you’ve routed them safely to their objective. Not only will this keep your units safer, it will also mess with the enemy’s sight lines. Speaking of...
3. Manipulate sight lines
It’s sometimes easy to forget when you look down at a battlefield from above, but every tree and barn on the battlefield can conceal units behind it. Units all have realistic lines of sight, and even the best sniper can’t shoot at things he can’t see.
For you, make sure your units are cooperating and looking out for each other. Send scout teams or recon planes across the map to give you an overall picture—and provide targeting coordinates for mortar and artillery fire. Keep units in a well-spread battle line so that one squad can get a good look around a farmhouse before another squad charges in. The more eyes you’ve got, the fewer surprises you’ll trip over.
To confuse your enemy, chop up sight lines as much as you can by moving behind hedgerows or setting up machine gun teams on blind corners. A tank can’t really take cover, but they can set up an ambush point behind a stand of trees to inflict damage without exposing themselves to anti-tank fire.
4. Establish a base of fire
It can take a little longer, but a patient commander tries not to send units forward all in one rush. A much safer option is an alternating leap-frog motion where one squad sends shots down range while another squad advances. When the forward squad gets dug in, they can start shooting with the rear squad catches up.
This trick works with more than infantry squads and machine gun teams. Keep a mortar team close to the front lines, and use them to pound the enemy or fill a field with smoke while your other squads move up. If you do it right, having a strong, stable base of fire superiority can slow the enemy down and keep them from grabbing territory. If you really have your act together, you can keep an enemy squad pinned down while a second squad gets in close and captures them, wiping them off the board in an instant.
5. Budget points and attack in waves
Reinforcements are always on the way in Steel Division. Every minute, more points are added to your budget to use or spend. You can start the game with a few squads, and a minute later you’ll have enough to add a mortar team, and a minute later you can send in a tank. How and when you spend these points is a big part of your strategy. And though it’s tempting to plot out your favorite strategy for spending these points, the battlefield is always unpredictable. Budget those points to keep something in reserve. Sometimes when you need an anti-tank gun, you really, really need that anti-tank gun.
Battles in Steel Division run in three phases: A, B, and C. Each phase comes with different amounts of points, and each phase unlocks more and more powerful units. If you’ve got a few minutes of phase A left and your lines are holding strong, think about saving your money for a while. If you time it right, you can launch a wave of strong Phase B units the instant they become available. If your enemy is slow to roll out the new units, a phalanx of newly minted tanks could be the surprise they aren’t ready for.