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Posted on Jul 22, 2015 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Congo Merc – PC/Mac Game Review

Congo Merc – PC/Mac Game Review

By Patrick Baker

wellingtons-victory-logoCongo Merc. PC game review. Developed and Published by Hexwar, Ltd, DreamWalker Games, Ltd, and Decision Games, Inc.  Price for PC and Mac: $14.99; for iPad and iPhone: $4.99

 Passed Inspection: Low price, easy to learn, quick playing.

Failed Basic: Bland graphics, generic game-play, low replay value.

Congo Merc is a light operational-level war-game set in the Congo during the decolonization in the 1960s. The digital game Congo Merc is based on the mini-board-game Congo Merc, the Congo 1964. The digital game is easy to learn and quick playing, but unhappily the game-play rapidly becomes repetitive.

Historical Background

When the Republic of Congo declared its independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, the country was woefully unprepared for self-government. For example, among a native population of 13.7 million people there were only 30 college graduates and not one Western-trained native Congolese doctor or lawyer. In just a few short weeks after liberation, the situation grew more and more violent and chaotic as sections of the country declared independence from the central government and the army mutinied.

From 1960 to 1967 the Congo was in a nearly constant state of turmoil; there were bloody revolts, political intrigue and assassinations, military coups and international military interventions in the guise of peace-keeping. Into this anarchy came modern mercenaries; what William Shakespeare and novelist Frederick Forsyth called the “dogs of war.”

Led by men like Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, Jean “Black Jack” Schramme and Robert Denard, these “soldiers of fortune” were a mixed lot of British, French, German, South African and other nationalities; many were veterans of World War Two, including some that had served in the German Wehrmacht and Waffen SS (at least one still proudly wore his Eisernes Kreuz), others were veterans of Korea and some were fresh from the French Foreign Legion. Many were also drug users, alcoholics and petty criminals as well.  During the heyday of the mercs in the Congo, they found themselves fighting, at one time, against the central government, then at another time fighting for it. They suppressed rebellions, fought United Nations peacekeeping troops and battled Cuban revolutionaries (including Che Guevara), rescued hostage civilians and also committed grand larceny on an epic scale.

Game Play

Congo Merc comes with a tutorial that is not really a tutorial. What the designers call a tutorial is actually just a set of page turning briefings on the mechanics and concepts of the game. The briefing/tutorial is in need of better editing. For example, at one point it reads “Now that we’ve thoroughly covered in-game menus let’s move onto movement…” even though the in-game menus had yet to be mentioned at all. So the manual does an excellent job of leaving the player confused and thinking they have missed some important information. Also at no time do these instructions actually do a player “walk through” of how to play the game. Fortunately, the game is fairly easy to learn just by playing it.

In Congo Merc the player leads a collection of mercenary units on a variety of missions.  There are four preset scenarios in the game: In “Race for the Wreckage” the player must fight to a downed plane and recover vital intelligence before the rebels do. In “Coup!” The player must retake a rebel occupied area and capture the rebel leader. In “Search and Destroy” the player must raid into enemy-held territory and bring back some prisoners for interrogation. In “Rescue the Hostages” the player must fight their way to a major city and rescue hostages held there before the rebels massacre them.  Playing a mission through takes about 30 minutes or less. There is also a sandbox mode for a free play campaign.

At the start of each mission the player buys a set of units from a menu. Available unit types are: Field Engineer Sappers, Tactical Leaders, Armoured Heavy Weapons, Transport Helicopters, Commando platoons, Airstrikes, Armoured Cars, Paratroopers, PSY-OPS (Psychological Operations) Units, CIA Agents, and Supply Columns. Each type of unit has movement and attack points. Some have special abilities, like Sappers can overcome obstacles and “blow-up stuff for intel.” CIA agents and PSY-OPS can conduct recons. Paratroopers can helicopter assault, or parachute drop, into certain locations. Only Supply Columns can carry civilians and so on. The player then groups these units into task-forces and starts the mission.

When a unit moves into a new zone an event is triggered. These events range, for example, from gathering intelligence, to discovering and overcoming an obstacle, to combat. In the combat phase the player selects the order in which his units will fight. After this selection both sides’ units are displayed on the combat screen. The player then chooses, one at a time, which enemy unit his pre-selected units will attack. Then, depending on a hidden die-role, the enemy is either missed, panics or is killed. Sometimes the mercs may get a second shot at the enemy. Now it is the rebels’ turn to fire at the mercenaries. This cycle continues until one side or the other is all killed or panicked.

Congo Merc’s map graphics are very basic and breathtakingly bland. The unit icons are the worst kind of cartoonish; barely a step above Clipart. The background music is annoying and repetitive. The sound effects are equally annoying and provide no useful information about game events.

Besides the blah graphics and sound, Congo Merc has two major shortcomings. First, the game is very generic.That is to say, that while it purports to explore the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, the player does not learn anything about warfare in Congo at that time. Given the units and missions, the game could have just as easily been placed in the North African Desert of World War Two, or Malaysia during the Malaya Emergence, or any number of world hot-spots from 1945 to 1990.

The second shortfall of Congo Merc is that it quickly falls into a “wash, rinse, and repeat” cycle of play. The player moves into an area and either experiences a non-combat event, like blowing up a safe for intelligence, or having the United Nations drop supplies. These non-combat events require little or no player interaction, they simply happen and then the player goes on. Or the player may get to fight. Combat is barely above the level of Risk and generally the mercenaries so out-gun the enemy forces that there is little tension during these phases. After slaughtering the hapless enemy, the player moves again and the cycle starts over.

The Bottom Line

The mid-20th Century Congo Wars is a conflict that is ripe with possibilities for war-gaming. Sadly, Congo Merc does not fill that niche. While the digital version Congo Merc might appeal to fans of the board game, it is otherwise so shallow and tedious that other gamers would not find it a good value.

Armchair General Rating: 72%

If you want to know more about mercenaries in the Congo during the 1960s please read: Mercenaries and the Congo Crisis.

About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History, European History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife).  He continues to use all his education to play more games and irritate his family. 

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