Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge review
On December 15, 1944, Allied morale took an unexpected knock when a plane carrying Glenn Miller disappeared over the Channel. A couple of days later it was shaken to its very foundations at the news that US forces, undefeated since D-Day, were retreating in disarray in the Ardennes. The Battle of the Bulge has been wargamed countless times before. This treatment is worth a look because it involves a revamped version of Panther Games’ Rommelsharp Airborne Assault engine. As in Conquest of the Aegean (PCG 165, 84%) and Highway to the Reich (PCG 136, 80%), the battles here surge and sprawl unchecked by hex-grids and turns. More importantly they play out under the watchful eyes of AIs – both friendly and hostile – that understand exactly what WWII-era operational warfare was all about.
In BftB, when you select an HQ counter and give it an attack order, it doesn’t make an all-guns-blazing bee-line for the objective. It sits there for a while apparently doing sod-all, then moves off in the company of its subordinate units.
The CO the counter represents has turned your order into a detailed plan. He’s figured out which units he should leave in reserve, where to position artillery, where the attack will form-up and what shape it will take. In short, the tiny silicon cleverclogs has done his job.
How well he has done is job, only time will tell. Leaders are of differing abilities and temperaments, and, like you, never have perfect intel on enemy dispositions. In practice, you’ll rarely delegate without nuancing your instructions, and you’ll regularly wade in to fine-tune an action, or respond to an unexpected move from the foe.
And blimey, the foes in BftB love moving unexpectedly. When frustrated AI attackers melt away in this game, they’re rarely heading back to Cologne for a sausage and a snooze. There’s a good chance they’ve withdrawn because they’ve spotted a weak point somewhere else in your line and intend to try their luck there.
Long-time fans of Panther’s work will appreciate engine enhancements such as the new weapon data view, and the ability to coordinate orders by setting commencement times (H-hours). Newcomers may wonder why such a progressive wargame doesn’t take advantage of 3D maps or present its 27 scenarios more imaginatively. Everyone, veteran or novice, is likely to splutter on seeing the price tag.
£64 is a lot to pay for a strategy game, even one as smart and credible as BftB. For that kind of money I expect a fat printed manual (the first Airborne Assault came with a 240- page volume) and a novelty Nebelwerfer pencil sharpener. It’s very sad to see one of the few serious wargames series with mainstream potential going elitist in its old age.
Serious military strategy games don’t come any better, or pricier, than this. Try the demo before you dig out your credit card.