This is a confusing experience, because Iâ€™ve played a few wargames before and Iâ€™m not bad. Iâ€™m not great, either, but Iâ€™ve definitely never felt this flummoxed before. Iâ€™ve actually shook my fist at the computer screen and yelled â€œYou Russki bastardâ€ at least once, much to my catâ€™s amusement.
My flailing is made all the more unsettling by the fact that this looks like an accessible, casual wargame, what with the chibi Nazis and the fur-hatted Russian conscripts. Inevitably, there are multiple mods being developed to exchange clown car mechanized troops for sterile NATO counters, because real wargamers donâ€™t feel smart unless their wives have no idea what theyâ€™re staring at on the monitor, making â€œhmmmâ€ noises and puffing their pipes.
Indeed, the interface is brilliant and easy to read. Front lines, supply lines, and unit movements are all clearly displayed with just a keystroke. Brave gebirgsjager are sent on perilous mountain assaults with single clicks. The game gives you just enough confidence to hang you out to dry.
They key to all of the couple dozen scenarios are supply lines, which are easily highlighted by holding down your â€˜Sâ€™ key. If you guard your supply lines while cutting off your enemyâ€™s, in just a couple turns their units will be weak as kittens.
The spanner in the works, though, is the devilishly good AI. Frequently I focused so hard on creating the textbook breakthrough, shuffling units to get just one more hex I needed to cut a rail line, I would make a little compromise. Iâ€™m out of German units, so Iâ€™ll just shuffle this Italian over here. Heâ€™s wearing a jaunty mountaineer hat, Iâ€™m sure the Russians wonâ€™t bother him.
Then WHAM, three Russian infantry have dogpiled that poor Alpini and cleared the way for a Russian cavalryman â€“ a man on a horse, mind you â€“ to get astride my rail line. Cue much swearing while I throw my panzers into reverse, stopping my own nascent encirclement to spend a term untangling my supply lines. If you leave the AI an opportunity, it is remarkably good at exploiting your mistakes.
This is a bit of a paradox. Iâ€™ve spent my entire gaming career wishing for an AI that is capable of reacting and challenging a human player, instead of just blindly following scripts. Now that Iâ€™ve found one, I kind of wish I hadnâ€™t. Or there was at least an easy button for incompetents like me.
That said, it's now time to go back to hacking away at Stalingrad, trying to get a decisive victory.