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Posted on Nov 8, 2011 in Electronic Games

Battle Academy Expansions – PC Game Review

By Jim Cobb

Battle Academy Expansions Operation Market Garden and Blitzkrieg France. PC Game Review. Publisher: Slitherine Ltd. Developer: Lordz Game Studios. Operation Market Garden Expansion $14.99 Digital/$24.99 Boxed; Blitzkrieg France Expansion $14.99 Digital/$24.99 Boxed.

Passed Inspection: Great graphics, improved AI, interesting missions, new units, a true campaign, fine editor.

Failed Basic: A bug in the campaign, some weapon oddities, range is not linear. Some historical accuracy is sacrificed for gameplay.

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Waiting is an integral if frustrating element of gaming. Patches, updates, expansions – all can take time and make gamers either pull their hair or even shelve the product. In the case of Slitherine and Matrix’s Battle Academy’s (nee Battlefield Academy) expansion Operation Market Garden and patch Version 1.6, legal battles over the name can be blamed. The wait was worth it. This review examines two expansions, Operation Market Garden and Blitzkrieg France along with the v1.6 patch.

Game Changer

The basics of turn-based tactical gaming have remained largely unchanged for the PC: units are individual squads, guns and vehicles. They are moved around the map using an interface driven by a tooltip menu. A subset of this menu shows combat probabilities. Units are rated for anti-armor or high explosive attacks, morale, and experience. Vehicles have different armor aspects and anti-tank abilities. Tanks and wheeled vehicles can get bogged down in bad terrain. Size and speed of both target and attacker affect accuracy with deflected shots being common. In most missions, players must choose to buy their units with limited points.

Infantry that survives the approach to an objective can assault adjacent positions and vehicles with surprising success. Off-board assets include air, artillery, medics, supply, and sergeants to add experience to units. Combat results produce one of six outcomes: no effect, suppressed, retreat, rout, surrender, and destroyed. Missions usually require objective hexes to be taken. More difficult achievements add spice and replay opportunities to the game by setting challenges such as not using airpower for X number of turns. The 3D terrain and units are depicted in graphic novel fashion on the zoomable, rotating map. Sound effects are good with shouts from units that are actually helpful, though in the native tongue of the unit. An easy way to download user-created battles enlarges the game’s scope, though care must be taken with game balance as the unit points are not well crafted.

Patch 1.6 adds significant sparkle to the game. The most obvious is a true campaign option. Units can be carried over with their experience and casualties from mission to mission. With Operation Market Garden and its four different Allied formations, some units skip missions to re-appear later. A bug involving mission objectives when a mission is saved and re-loaded is expected to be fixed soon. New units like later armored vehicles and the Waffen SS are introduced. The AI seems sharper and more creative. Modders and scenario designers will benefit from the ShowSystemTip. Players have an interface choice between the old left-right-left mambo and using only the left mouse button. This patch brings the game to a new level even if not all changes are well documented.

Funky Tanks

The armor of 1940 did not resemble the sleek monsters of the later war. On the Allied side, they were designed by committee and, like the camel, looked like it. The Renaults and the Schneiders look like they just came out of 1918 while the French APCs are indescribable. The better tanks, Somua and Char bis, have a modern look to them even if their one-man turrets slashed their efficiency. Blitzkrieg France captures not only their odd appearances but also their underrated strengths. Heavily armored and well-gunned for the period, these vehicles could handle the numerous Panzer IIs at long and medium range with little danger to themselves. Only the fairly rare Panzer IIIs have a chance in a duel at range. The absence of the Panzer 38t, the best tank killer the Germans had at the time, is regrettable.

The nine France scenarios represent the ability of the Germans to overcome their qualitative inferiority with superior tactics. French vehicles seem to fight alone versus the German ability to coordinate units. One panzer can draw fire while another maneuvers for a side or rear shot. The most dangerous French system is overlapping gun emplacements. Stukas can help with this problem but most of this work is left to infantry dodging from cover to cover. Superior German halftracks aid in suppressing French emplacements. The mission thread follows the German advance from invasion to the last ditch counterattacks by elite French armored units. What the Blitzkrieg France expansion does well is to show that, while the blitzkrieg of 1940 was an operational wonder, fighting was tough tactically especially in urban environments. Players can expect a challenge in getting all achievements.

Moving Faster Than XXX Corps

Operation Market Garden follows the grisly fate of the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the British 1st Airborne and XXX Corps during the ill-fated drive through the Netherlands to Arnhem. The eight locked scenarios cover the American capture and defense of their two sets of bridges, the 1st Paras valiant attempt to grab the prize over the Rhine and XXX Corps’ frantic drive to relieve the paratroops.

The Americans are elite troops but their heaviest weapons are .30 cal. machine guns and bazookas. Fortunately, the first troops they meet are mediocre so the bridge is captured early, allowing time for the counter attack by Waffen-SS and StuGs to be turned back. XXX Corps has Sherman Fireflies, Cromwells, flame throwing Crocodiles, and mortars with heavy off board support. All the assets are easily offset by bad ground, many objectives, well-placed 88s, Panzerwerfers “(Moanin’ Minnis”), anti-tank grenades, and stubborn village defenses. A balance between armor and infantry is required to blunt determined concealed guns and concealed infantry. Off-board artillery can hurt friendly forces as much as enemies. Taking all the objectives is hard enough, not to mention the achievements.

However, all the above seems like a walk in the park compared to the “Red Devils” in Arnhem. Armed with the ineffective PIAT and short range flame throwers, they must navigate the overbuilt environs of an old Dutch city, complete with twisty streets under fire by sharp German troops, to capture six objectives around the north end of the bridge over the Rhine. No off-board artillery or air support is available although, oddly, they can be re-supplied. To achieve the objectives, players must slip down rows of houses as meager reinforcements trickle in.

After the first three missions, survivors from earlier combat show up. These missions represent the link-ups leading to Arnhem’s south side and staving off major German counterattacks. If players haven’t squandered their forces, enough experienced force will be on hand to force the way north. Players who have thrown troops away will not be very successful and will not see the last scenario, leaving the British troopers to their fate.

Hard core gamers will be able to find plenty of nits to pick in these expansions. Anti-armor rounds have too much effect on infantry and the German Stielhandgrenate 43 anti-tank grenade should only be usable on adjacent tiles. Limiting units to only three shots gives Battle Academy a somewhat gamey feel to it. Logarithmic calculation of distance creates a distorted and unintuitive sense of distance. These items increase the fun factor but subtract from Battle Academy’s historical authenticity. The patch and expansions make what was a nice game into something that is almost a classic. I am holding my breath for the Eastern Front.

Armchair General Rating: 88%

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online

 

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