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Posted on Nov 24, 2009 in Electronic Games

Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Armchair General MagazineGary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich

Matrix Games. $59.99; $49.99 digital download

Passed Inspection: Uncompromising detail, great grognard fare.

Failed basic: Clunky interface, not enough short scenarios, confusing graphics

The best way to Duxford is not through London’s AA guns and barrage balloons.

Almost seventy years ago, massive fleets of German bombers tried to bludgeon Britain to its knees. In the summer of 1940, Heinkel 111s, Dornier 17s and Junkers 88s flew daily missions over Britain, and inflicted terrible damage on military and civilian targets. But three years later the tables were turned. By mid-1943, Allied B-17s, B-24s and Wellingtons bombed Germany around-the-clock, and pulverized Germany’s industries and cities into rubble.

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Matrix Games’ recently released title, Eagle Day to Bombing of the Reich, covers this air war over Europe, from the Battle Britain to the devastation of Nazi Germany. The game is actually an update and re-release of two Gary Grigsby games originally published in 1999 by Talonsoft.

Like many Gary Grigsby titles, the re-released EDBTR has a definite hardcore feel. The game is not for casual gamers or those who don’t want to take a deep dive into game play. For grognards who may have missed the originals however, the revived EDBTR is just great news. Gary Grigsby is much more than legend in the wargaming community. It is not hype to say that Gary is one of the handful of designer-developers who have been the bedrock of PC wargaming over the last 20 years.

So it’s a good thing that Matrix Games has found a niche in updating classic war games from the past -not only is the new EDBTR comfortable running on MS Vista, the Matrix team also exterminated bugs, fixed errors in the game data, and tinkered a bit with game play.

Of course, EDBTR looks and plays pretty much like the original games did in 1999, at least as far as this reviewer’s moth-ball-filled memory can recall. What this means for today’s wargamer is an interface that is a clunky and graphics that are nostalgic, to put it politely. But these will be minor issues for the hard-core strategy buff.

Grizzled gamers who still have working copies of the original games may rightly question having to pay full fare for the new EDBTR. But for gamers who never owned the original games, or who no longer have a game rig that will play the 1999 versions, Matrix’ re-release is a welcome effort. Like the recent re-master and re-release of the Beatles albums, EDBTR is a Grigsby classic that grognards shouldn’t miss.

As the player fires up the game, he is asked to choose which campaign he wants to play. The Eagle Day portion of the game focuses on the Battle of Britain, and the action happens mostly in 1940. Bombing the Reich focuses on the Allied bombing effort, starting in 1943 and going to the end of the war.

Each game within EDBTR has a decent number of scenarios. These offer a pretty good picture of air war. For the more casual gamer, there are a small handful of scenarios that represent a week or several months and have limited maps. But most of the scenarios are very long, and will take many evenings to complete. The full Bombing the Reich 1943 scenario is 700 turns long – probably unplayable by most of us in our lifetimes. While the long scenarios are nice, more short, one-month and one-week scenarios would be welcome.

The maps in both Eagle Day and Bombing the Reich cover the campaigns fully. In Eagle Day, all of England is portrayed, along with German bases in France and Norway. The Bombing the Reich map is just huge, going from England to North Africa, Eastern Europe and parts of the Soviet Union. All of this space is not wasted. The player can set up shuttle-bombing missions that start at one base and end at another; so starting in Italy, bombing Romania and flying to a base in the Soviet Union is possible.

Besides bases, targets are another key feature noted on the map. Enemy territory is bulging with dozens of target types like ball-bearing works, oil refineries, power plants, railheads, radar sites, and tank and infantry units. To win, the attacker must link his target choices to a strategy. For example, pounding primary airfields and aircraft factories eventually makes it hard for the defender to put up interceptors.

Game play is the same for both parts of EDBTR. Each turn represents one day of real time. The attacker – Germany in the case of Eagle Day, and the US-Britain alliance in Bombing the Reich – first plans each day’s missions. For the defender, the planning phase is pretty short as he moves AA guns and squadrons around to better meet the enemy’s attack.

To build a mission the attacker picks a target, the Duxford airfield for example. The game will then draw an inbound and outbound flight path, but the player can adjust this to avoid areas of heavy flak – the best way to Duxford is not through London’s AA guns and barrage balloons. The player then picks an altitude and start time and designates the lead bomber squadron. Finally, he adds any additional bomber squadrons as well as fighter escorts.

Given the number of squadrons and potential targets, setting up the day’s raids can be very time-consuming; easily an hour or more. Fortunately, the game features a staff-planning button that allows the player to automate setting up routine missions. This reviewer found himself manually setting up the key raids of the day, and then letting his robo-staff set up routine recon missions and fighter sweeps.

Each day of planning, has some very deep strategic and operational decisions. As the Luftwaffe in 1940 do you divert precious bombers to take out radar sites? Do you concentrate on taking out the RAF? Or do you go straight for the heart of British industry and population centers? As losses mount, and squadrons bleed morale, the player has a deep sense that picking the right strategy and sticking to it is critical but also difficult.

When all missions are set up, the attacker hits start, and the game plays out the day in real time. As each mission forms and moves to its target, the defender is warned of the formation’s approach once the bombers enter radar range. While the bombers approach, the defender can scramble his squadrons at anytime to repel the attackers. The attacker can take no action once planning is over. He can only watch as his carefully constructed raids enter enemy air space and the defender’s wolves begin to snip away at them.

Even forgiving players will gripe about the aircraft graphics. Each aircraft flight on the map is portrayed with 2d sprites. Individually, these are an accurate top-down portrait showing aircraft type and direction. But when the fighting is hot and heavy, there are hundreds of these sprites on the map. The little aircraft all start to overlap, and a major air battle just becomes a confusing smudge of color.

The feel of play in EDBTR is sometimes more like a sports-management simulation than a traditional war game. The game explodes with data. Even individual pilots are tracked, and the player can check to see who his top aces are, which squadron they are in and if they are still alive. The interface relies heavily on long lists of data where players pick the best squadron for the job based on factors like experience, fatigue, morale and, of course, aircraft type. All this data is not a bad thing, but playing from a spreadsheet is an acquired taste, and to some players it may seem more like work than play.

The AI is pretty good at putting up a fight, and will keep the player busy and happy for quite a while. Still, the AI exhibits no imagination or trickery, and the player can find ways to exploit its weaknesses. In the one-week Oil Offensive scenario for example, the human Allied player first pounds out a radar-free corridor to the sweet cluster of oil refineries in Romania. Once this happens, you would think that robo-Goering would scramble patrols to plug the radar gap. But the computer is just not that smart. The CPU defender doesn’t scramble fighters until it sees the player’s planes. So if the player hasn’t disturbed the hornet’s nest with recons and fighter sweeps, the AI doesn’t lift a finger until the bombs start dropping on the refineries. Of course, the AI does make the bomber’s trip home a living hell, but that is another story. Also, when players are ready for a more cunning opponent, the game supports PBEM contests.

The documentation is mostly good, and describes the major features of the game pretty well. However, the manual is not comprehensive. There are some important game-play points that aren’t even mentioned. A trip to Matrix forums is recommended to fill the gaps. For example, apparently different fighter aircraft perform better in certain altitude bands, so there is a difference in picking P-47s vs. Spitfires to escort a low-level raid. Also, the Axis player can control aircraft production, and this is almost a mini-game itself. But the manual does not give a hint how to do this, and the feature is deeply buried in the interface.

In the final evaluation, EDBTR is in a class by itself. Other games have portrayed the operational aspects of the WWII air war in Europe, but none have approached EDBTR‘s sweep and scope. The game is very deep and has little to offer players looking for casual gaming experience. For experienced wargamers who love detail EDBTR is comprised of two Grigsby classics that should not be missed. If that is you, signal remove chocks, and taxi to the runway; you have a date with destiny over the flak-filled skies of Europe.

Armchair General score:  85% for gameplay, but dated graphics and interface make it 78%.

About the author:

Larry Levandowski has been a wargamer for more than 30 years, and started computer gaming back in the days of the C-64. Until he recently discovered the virtues of DOS box and virtual machines, much of his computer game collection was unplayable. A former US Army officer, Larry has done his share of sitting in foxholes. Since leaving the Army, he has worked in the Information Technology field, as a programmer, project manager and lead bottle washer. He now spends his spare time playing board games, Napoleonic and WWII miniatures, as well as any PC game he can get his hands on.

 

 

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