So...yeah. I'm still on the hunt for a new wargame (there must be a new game under the tree every Christmas!!!). Don't get me wrong, I really liked Theatre of War 2 and I will be purchasing it at some point (probably the complete pack, featuring Africa, Kursk and Caen. Steam has a bundle for $45). But there was something bothering me about all three...and you know what that is? No winter maps! I can't help it - my region is heading into winter. The last thing I want to do is wargame on the wonderfully verdant and sunny fields of ToW2 (we Catholics are all about ordering our lives according to "feasts and seasons". It's part of our medieval patrimony).
So I set about looking for yet another game, one with winter maps. I was hoping for a Battle of the Bulge title (why are they so scarce?!? ), but struck out. Instead, I found this gem from Paradox & Graviteam: Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943. Superficially, it has a lot in common with ToW2 - realistic physics and damage with a largely point and click interface (an intuitive UI is essential to me these days) - but this title comes with lots of winter maps.
This game plays a bit like Total War in that there is a strategic portion of the game, followed by real time battles. I can't comment too much on the strategic portion as I am still getting a hand of how everything works (it does strike me as very basic, though, and just a mechanic for generating some battles with context), but the real time battles are quite fun and feel just right. Like ToW2, this is a slow RT game (slower than ToW2 for that matter). It really is a matter of just positioning your squads/platoons (this is a company focused game) and then reacting to the battlefield as events occur. I think it's simplicity is what makes it work.
While fooling around with the demo, I had an interesting mission where I actually managed to stop the AI in an interesting way. Here's some screenies:
In my last battle, I had to defend a sector against a German attack. After looking over the map, I could see that I had a huge defensive advantage as two crucial victory locations were located behind a major river with a single bridge crossing (there was a way around, but it was a mile or so to the far left flank). Naturally, I fortified the crossing with a dug in squad, a heavy MG and an AT gun. Things worked out better than I thought!
The Germans tried to force a crossing with some mounted infantry. I didn't think we had a chance, but my dug-in squad proved me wrong. The AI made a mistake in that he stopped and tried to gun down my infantry. He did get about half the squad, but then my heavy MG (which was at a safer distance) opened up. I didn't think it would do much damage, but it succeeded in damaging one of the vehicles tracks, stopping it for good. We were still getting hammered good, though, from the mounted MG. But then our MG saved us again by penetrating the engine block, which started a fire (you can see it starting to burn in the photo).
Here's a close-up:
This was actually pretty cool. Unlike other games were vehicles are often insta-killed, this one died at a realistic pace. First, there was smoke from the engine. Then, a few minutes later, a fire - at which point the infantry smartly bailed out (and my infantry squad took revenge). Then the fire got more intense and burned for 15 minutes. Lastly, a sudden explosion occurred that threw a German corpse into the river. Awesome.
Our heroes on the MG. Here's a question for you WWII experts: could this MG really stop a Sdkfz in this manner?
The Wehrmacht attempted to force a crossing anyway, but we gunned down the infantry as fast as they came (plus hit them with some arty). I'm not sure why the AI didn't bring up some heavier support (It didn't have any? The Sdkfz was blocking the bridge? They were attempting to flank on the far left?).
The AI did find that way around the left flank, but after capturing a victory flag, stopped. Not sure if it was just a probe or what. Just in case, I moved my reserve infantry to cover the westward approaches:
It is easy to assume the AI was just stupid, but I have to say this AI is smart. In a previous battle, the AI ran into some heavy fighting when I had two of my squads fortify some homes. Much to my amazement, it pulled its units out and tried again on the right! Then it called in arty and hit us again! Sweet!
Overall, this battle really put a smile on my face because it felt real. I believed I had a strong defensive position, yet expected the AI to perform one of those all too common Hail Mary plays where it would magically rout my defenders and win the battle. But that didn't happen. Instead, the AI got slaughtered in a way that usually happens to me. In other words, there was no sign of cheating.
Those are my observations of this game at the moment. I really like what I see here, too. Stay tuned for more (I am planning on a review)!