The View From the Bunker – Ya gotta love a game with staying power

By Jeff Ward 22 Jul 2015 0

Given my latent prognosticative proclivities, my lovely and longsuffering wife frequently refers to me as being psychic. I know what you’re thinking, but no, she doesn’t say I’m psychotic – at least not out loud. And this piece is a perfect example of one of those interesting and ongoing synchronicities. 

You see, the second I started ruminating about my ongoing love affair with Norm Koger’s, The Operational Art of War series, not only did the surprise 3.4.1.9 TOAW III update come out, but Matrix announced an upcoming TOAW IV sequel

The update contains a retreat from combat enhancement, a number of bug fixes, and 26 new and revised scenarios. I was particularly pleased to see TVFTB reader Fabio Governato’s East Front 1941-45 scenario included in the mix. Fabio sent me that one earlier in the year and it’s clear he put quite a bit of work into it. 

You can download the patch and read about the upcoming release right here

TOAW IV promises to “fully support modern computer hardware and operating systems,” simplify the interface, and “be the new base point for the TOAW series and future updates.” All I can say is, with Order of Battle Pacific, Scourge of War: Waterloo, Brother Against Brother, and now this, it’s certainly been a wargaming summer for the ages. 

But back to the issue at hand. 

While I can’t tell you just how much I love descending those basement steps to pull out all the old SSI, SSG, and Talonsoft boxes, I don’t play those games anymore. The fact that I own a 3.5 inch USB disk drive notwithstanding, those well-past-their-prime titles are now nothing more than fond remembrances. And, trust me; I’ll never part with them. 

But at a time when Moore’s Law is making the term “dog years” obsolete, there’s one 1998 title I keep going back to – The Operational Art of War! Granted it’s on its third edition, but the gameplay, the graphics, and the interface are still pretty much the same. 

And, per that old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” adage, that’s a good thing. Why mess with success? I absolutely love TOAW’s great board game look, sound effects really don’t matter to me, and, while it might not be the most intuitive interface, considering when it came out, it’s alright. 

Not only that, but the movement, combat, and turn end systems are still way ahead of their time, so much so, that I’m still trying to master those in-game elements after playing the game for 17 long years. 

Who doesn’t eagerly anticipate or decidedly dread that inevitable initiative shifting turn in which you or your opponent get to move twice? And you never know exactly when your turn is about to end either! Sure - your army’s operational proficiency and the game will give you some idea of how far you can go, but who hasn’t pumped their fist in triumph when the turn ends immediately after you accomplish everything you set out to do. 

And I absolutely love the concept of losing efficiency and thus, unit strength, through movement. We wargamers tend to take consequence free movement for granted when that was clearly not the military case. Napoleon’s retreat from Russia didn’t go too well, now did it? 

What those limitations do is force TOAW generals to carefully consider the necessity of moving a unit and plan their attacks in such a way that the turn doesn’t abruptly end at the most inopportune moment. 

Beyond being a great simulation system, the slew of scenarios borne of TOAW’s open architecture is what’s given this game such great legs. Even I fall prey to making the “endless replay value” review overstatement, but in this case, it’s actually quite accurate. 

Considering his legendary attention to detail, I can understand why Mr. Tiller chooses to release his “scenarios” as separate titles. We all need to pay the mortgage. But it’s nice when an iconic developer like Mr. Koger honors the wargaming community with an effort that’s far less commercial than it could’ve been. To wit, TOAW III is worth far more than its current $29.99 download price. 

And now we’re getting TOAW IV! I’d run naked around the block in celebration of this unanticipated windfall, but the neighbors tell me they’re getting kinda tired of it. 

I don’t want to get ahead of myself either! My fervent wish is that those crack Matrix programmers will continue to honor the spirit of this series and refuse to go all Civilization V on us. Interface upgrades? By all means! But please don’t mess with the mechanics that have worked so well for so long. 

In summation, since nothing in this already brief existence is as ephemeral as anything digital, it’s nice to have at least one old PC wargame friend. It’s nice to be able to depend upon a gaming system that never disappoints. And it’s really nice that it ain’t over yet. 

 

 

Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1970. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net.

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