Want to turn a green lane into a brown lane, tow a Gulaschkanone across a snowy field, or roam the Western Desert trashing Axis airfields? Get a 4×4. Want quick introductions to games of interest to wargamers and simmers? Read a 3×3. Prior to penning one of these articles I’ll play three tempting titles for at least three hours each. While it would be cavalier to call the reports that result from such brief auditions ‘reviews’, it’s conceivable they might lead to more prolonged playtests, and prompt or prevent the odd purchase.
Total Tank Generals
Tide of Battle? Forward to Victory? Coup de Panzer? I realise finding memorable/fitting/original names for new multi-front WW2 wargames gets harder with each passing year, but crikey, in the five minutes it’s taken me to drain a mug of tea and devour two slices of marmalade-slathered toast, I’ve managed to come up with three monikers significantly less awful and more apt than ‘Total Tank Generals‘.
Fortunately, the worst thing about this new, general-free TBT seems to be its name. Good looking and friendly, TTG is a £20 Panzer General-like with more than enough personality, substance, and truth to turn the heads of Panzer Corps 2, Order of Battle, and Strategic Mind fans.
Assuming they’re willing to accept diaphanous logistics (There are no supply lines. You gain extra unit purchase points by capturing minor objectives), disappointingly binary victory conditions (Draws aren’t possible. Fail to capture all ‘Major Strategic Points’ by a scenario’s final turn and the next campaign episode remains padlocked), and a few historical liberties (see on), wargamers with weightier tastes should also enjoy this demo-equipped newcomer.
I quickly warmed to sub-genre novelties such as multi-occupancy hexagons and long range tank fire. Because tanks generally have a two hex reach in TTG (infantry need to be adjacent to a target to attack) there’s a greater emphasis on manoeuvre and unit positioning here than there is in rival titles. Combat feels less predictable too. The relatively generous, complacency-discouraging pinch of RNG in the aggro equations sees to that.
Other grog gratifiers such as influential morale, fog of war, and zones of control, help distract from minor AI foibles like an ahistorical fondness/capacity for airborne ops. I won the first campaign outing – ‘The Battle of Arras‘ – by the skin of my teeth in the final turn, but lost the second – ‘The Siege of Lille‘ – after an improbable French para drop behind my lines. Unexpected enemy parachutists also wrecked my plans in ‘Operation Crusader‘ – a standalone challenge.
Although the CPU’s penchant for silk can stretch credulity, in none of the five missions I’ve tackled thus far, have I witnessed my opponent make an egregious tactical blunder. In fact he’s handled infantry, cavalry, armour, arty, and aircraft so skilfully, I’ve already started handicapping him by lightening his ‘Prestige’ purse (used for unit purchasing) prior to battles.
A quick search of the Steam forum suggests I’m alone in wanting a random map skirmish generator. Equipped with three six-mission linear campaigns, a recently expanded collection of single scraps, and a scenario/map editor, the surprisingly fresh, thoroughly likeable Total Tank Generals has no pressing need for this increasingly rare amenity, but anyone arriving from Panzer Corps 2 may rue its absence.
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Vincemus – Air Combat
As I’ve just been swindled out of a P-38 Lightning I’d spent ninety minutes saving for (mission success = funds that can be spent unlocking new flyables and weapons) this £11 Early Access “semi-realistic air combat shooter” and I aren’t going to part on the best of terms.
To be honest my relationship with Vincemus was starting to sour long before I encountered the cash bug that robbed me of a hard-earned fork-tailed devil. Around halfway through the audition, wearying of sorties that started and ended in the air, always took place over monotonous desert, and rarely involved aerial tussles prolonged or tense enough to qualify as ‘dogfights’, thoughts such as “You’d be having far more fun if you were flying Wings of Prey.” were beginning to pop into my head.
Perhaps if Vincemus didn’t sport more padlocks than the pre-2015 Pont des Arts – perhaps if Virtual Convict had provided better cockpits and damage modelling, or attempted to tell a story or work some low-key tactical decision-making into sortie preambles – things might have been different.
As things stand the vast majority of the current content – fourteen flyables, three sortie sequences, and sandbox and survival modes – is inaccessible when you launch for the first time. Unless you’re prepared to work your way through a dry-in-every-sense Allied North African campaign that starts somewhat strangely (British Swordfish bombing Italian tanks) and doesn’t care if you opt to swap your Stringbag for an unlocked Yak-9, Mustang, or Bf 109, then you’ll never get to fly over Europe or the Pacific.
Strafing and bombing flak-canopied Axis bases is fun for a while, as is transforming CR.42 Falchi into plunging comets, but in a world where more sophisticated, less restrictive light WW2 flight fare is available for less, and freebies like Sky On Fire exist, Early Access Vincemus is a long way from essential.
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Full Metal Sergeant
Tally-Ho Corner gave Until the Last Plane a proper pummelling, but that didn’t stop it garnering “Mostly Positive” feedback on Steam, or sap the resolve of its admirably open-to-criticism solo creator. I won’t flatter myself by suggesting “Ensure game is Tim Stone-proof” was one of CarloC’s design goals for Full Metal Sergeant, however, judging by the four hours I’ve spent with it thus far, there’s little danger of the £9 FMS emerging from a THC review covered in bruises.
Unlike UTLP, this movie-inspired drill sergeant TBS is shot through with thought-provoking decisions and doesn’t include saucer-shallow arcade mini games. Initially, the profusion of training options and recruit stats are a tad overwhelming, but after you’ve completed a few twelve week programmes, you begin to get a feel for how you should be spending your Training and Prestige Points.
The latter fund new facilities and camp upgrades…
And are earned through sporting success…
By completing secondary objectives…
And by accomplishing goals on the battlefield (Recruits that survive training go on Vietnam War-reminiscent missions in which your choices, their stats, and invisible dice combine to shape outcomes.)…
Training Points replenish at the start of each training turn and determine how many stat-boosting activities your pups-of-war can undertake.
Most turns deciding on an optimal training programme requires a fair bit of pondering. Often there’s a temptation to hothouse particular recruits – men with worrying weaknesses in certain areas or potentially dangerous personal traits such as ‘asthmatic’, ‘timid’, ‘fat’, and ‘pyromaniac’. The trouble is, time at your base’s assault course, shooting range, swimming pool etc. erodes stamina and increases stress, inducing states that bring their own issues if ignored.
Assignable assistants, fatiguing/rewarding sports competitions, and an optional ‘insult mode’ (accelerated stat growth but increased stress) add extra layers of complication to already engrossing dilemmas, as do the decision-demanding visitors and parcels that turn up at the guardhouse at regular intervals.
A less imaginative/ambitious dev would have concluded each training programme with a passing-out ceremony and a performance-related Prestige hand-out. CarloC provides multi-mission, grid-based combat tours that, if you’re unlucky or reckless, can end in disaster. How long your men spend in the field is up to you. Mismanage supplies or ask your unit to do too much and it’s possible to finish a tour with zero Prestige and no survivors (Survivors can be turned into instructors).
Apart from initial soldier placement, the firefights that punctuate combat missions seem entirely automated. This slightly annoyed my inner meddler, Max, who would have liked to have been able to pick targets, and issue orders such as advance, flank, and fall back. Hopefully, when I’m finally in a position to train grenadiers and mortarmen (trainees can be assigned specific roles if their stats are up to snuff) there’ll be opportunities to intervene.
A very pleasant surprise is the way separate twelve-week training programmes and their combat-rich conclusions dovetail together. Because you’re slowly developing your base and staff over time, and every new influx of maggots brings its own challenges, the train-tour-train-tour cycle isn’t anywhere near as repetitive as I feared it might be. Driven on by the thought of producing a squad capable of completing a full tour, engaged by the training dilemmas, and enamoured with CarloC’s lovingly crafted art and audio, it will – I imagine – be several weeks before I’m ready to give Full Metal Sergeant its marching orders.