The View From The Bunker Order of Battle: Pacific aint your grandfathers Panzer General!20 May 2015 0
Before you dismiss this statement as sacrilegious, please remember that I still have that life size poster of Gary Grigsby hanging on my bedroom wall. But with all due respect to one of our founding fathers, given the vast complexities of the particular conflict, like Goldilocks in that ursine abode, no one has managed to get that Second World War Pacific theatre just right.
So at the risk of exposing my blatantly bald head, my hat’s off to The Artistocrats for finally doing that island hopping campaign justice. Though I still say they’re tied with Muzzy Lane for strangest wargame developer company name ever.
But I digress!
At that first scenario glance, one would be tempted to sneer, “Oh look! It’s just the latest version of Panzer General!,” but that would about as far from the truth as it is possible to get.
Like the title says, this ain’t your grandfather’s beer and pretzels game. After a few turns, much like it was with Lady Gaga, you realize there’s some real depth here. So without further ado, let’s get into the game.
Editor’s comment – as I’ve been playing Order of Battle: Pacific as well over the last few week, I’ve taken the opportunity to stick my oar in with a few thoughts of my own along the way.
So first up I’ll repeat what I said at the start of my first impression piece: “ Order of Battle: Pacific definitely has a similar look and feel to Panzer Corps, and to be fair the developers are quite honest about this – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it applies. However, given the different subject matter – it’s the other side of the world from the European battlefields of Panzer Corps for a start – there is a definite difference. Not just the troops and units that are fighting across Pacific islands, but the look of the terrain (lots of wet bits) and the sound effects are all different and appropriate. All this makes Order of Battle feel a new game. Thankfully.”
Now over to Jeff …
- Resource and Command Points
Resource points permit the “purchase” of units while a command point expenditure is required to deploy them. Resource points can also be used to repair damaged units with either green or the much more expensive “elite” replacements.
Each player starts with a specific amount of resource and command points with more arriving every turn and specific military successes will sweeten that point pot.
- The units
There are an incredible number unit types in this game – somewhere around 500 – and one of the few user manual shortcomings is they aren’t listed anywhere. So I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that medical jeep in the Pearl Harbor scenario.
Each commander has “core” units (strength plate is outlined in yellow) that stay with them from scenario to scenario, gaining experience along the way. Then there are “auxiliary” units that are in it for just that round. The max unit strength is 10, with experience, efficiency, and supply level all figuring into the final combat value equation.
Thus, the critical question often becomes, is it more efficacious to throw those expendable auxiliary units into the meat grinder, or would it be better to risk those experienced veterans who might get the job done a little bit quicker?
With the exception of recon units which can move twice, a unit can move once and attack once per turn. Once it attacks it’s done moving. Simply click on the unit, the reachable hexes are highlighted, and click on a hex to move there.
Ah! But commanders have to exercise caution because if a unit stumbles across a hidden foe, it will be subjected to an “ambush” attack which confers certain bonuses. And just because that enticing jungle hex provides certain defensive perks, the tradeoff is moving into that kind of terrain will decrease a unit’s efficiency.
It’s a piece of cake! With the appropriate unit selected, hover the cursor over the target which produces the probable result, and click again if you’re good to go.
Naval, artillery, and torpedo capable units can make ranged attacks, but with the exception of torpedoes which require a clear path to the target, the combat mechanics are pretty much the same. In an interesting twist, artillery, naval, and strategic air bombardment don’t cause damage in the conventional sense; they reduce a unit’s efficiency.
Another cool thing is, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and fighters will provide support to any adjacent friendly unit. Conversely, even if it’s already attacked, properly positioned, a friendly unit will provide “flanking” support for a separate attack.
As for fighters, they automatically attack any enemy air unit that attacks any adjacent friendly unit.
- Air units
It took a little while to get used to OOB’s somewhat abstracted air system. Instead of returning to base every, or every other turn, each air unit has a fuel rating which indicates the number of turns it can stay in the air. For example, most fighters and tactical bombers start out with a fuel rating of 10. Should that rating drop to zero, the air unit will lose strength every turn until it crashes.
So in a sense, air units are just like land units in that they can occupy a general area and attack every turn. To refuel, simply return to a carrier or airbase and “land.” The “landing” process is a bit clunky, but it does work.
The supply formulas are very straightforward with supply lines working pretty much as any savvy commander would expect. Leaning on the spacebar will displays the supply levels of the current map area.
Don’t forget! It is imperative to guard your supply lines because the AI is pretty good at making the most of a careless mistake.
Editor – also, unsurprisingly, your units will fight better when they have supplies. Obvious, but true and it is an important part of the game that you need to keep an eye on. Fortunately the mechanism is really obvious and the radius of your supply is shown by a red line across the map. New supply points can be taken during the game and you will need to plan accordingly. Supply ships provide your supply line when you engage in amphibious assaults (doh!), so protecting them is a high priority.
- It’s all about the coordination
This is where the game really sets itself apart from its distant SSI predecessor. Success in the World War II Pacific Theater was dependent upon tight cooperation between land, air and naval forces and it’s no different here.
Fail to “screen” your capital ships with destroyers and cruisers and the enemy will send their destroyers on a suicide run to take out those targets with unstoppable torpedo attacks. Don’t even think about sending transports out unescorted.
Fail to consider the appropriate air defenses and the enemy will effectively target your high value assets – especially transports – wreaking havoc. You may destroy those pesky air units the next turn, but tactical bombers are much cheaper to replace than carriers and capital ships.
In one of the easier get-to-know-the-game scenarios, there appeared to be a couple of lone enemy destroyers within easy reach, but between my piecemeal naval charge and that consarned fog of war, it didn’t work out too well. Damn those land-based aircraft!
Much like a well-played game of chess in which the attacks are properly supported, success in OOB Pacific requires the same kind of careful coordination.
- The AI
There are five difficulty settings and even on the second lowest, the AI performs pretty well. It’s proficient at counterattacking, putting together a decent defense, hitting the most vulnerable high value targets, and capitalizing on a human player’s mistakes.
My only qualm would be that it doesn’t seem to have a sense of “sprinting to the finish” as a scenario is approaching the end.
Editor – agreed, the AI is pretty good at release, and it’s the sort of thing that gets tweaked with updates so could get better, however, I wonder if Order of Battle: Pacific may work best in multiplayer – which can be played with 4 real life players. Actually, there are options here too as players can compete head-to-head or as a team against the AI. The game ships with nine multiplayer scenarios, however, this will hopefully increase as people get their hands on the editor and create more.
- The nuances
Commanders are a nice touch. They either appear at various points in the campaign or show up as a result of attaining victory conditions. We’ve already talked about experience and efficiency and units can also earn specializations as well.
- The quirks
Battleships are too powerful and, at least as far as I’ve played, there seems to be too many surface ship engagements compared to the actual historical record. It’s also kind of strange that armored units can move further per turn than ships.
- Campaigns and scenarios (Editor again)
In single player there is a tutorial/introduction “campaign” of 4 scenarios which takes you through the various types of warfare you will encounter in the game. So you get land and naval scenarios as well as a couple that involve amphibious invasion – the meat and drink of the war in the Pacific.
Then there are the two main campaigns where you can play as either Imperial Japan or the US led allies. These are based around historical actions although there is also a “what if” invasion of Australia which I am looking forward to having a bash at.
Editor - well it’s clear that Jeff really likes the game, so I’ll just add my concluding thoughts.
Put simply this is an excellent Panzer Corps/Panzer General style of game carefully designed to represent World War 2 warfare in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The introduction of a supply mechanism is a seriously good step forward from the older games and needs watching as the AI will cut your supply lines. It is also a better looking game than its older cousins. Whilst many grogs will think this is unimportant I think it is and that it adds to the game – a nice touch. If you are looking for an accessible, but still challenging game in the Panzer Corps style, then I have no hesitation in recommending Order of Battle: Pacific – hopefully this is just the first in a series of games from the Artistocrats.
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 email@example.com.