War & Free(dom): Grenada and Mius ‘43 by JTS04 Dec 2017 2
The holiday season is upon us; that time of giving, receiving and penury. One of the downsides of getting a wished-for game is that it doesn’t live up to expectations. The thought may be what counts but the thought won’t alieve the pain of a bad game. John Tiller Software (JTS) has a solution: free demos introducing beginners to a system. In the past, these demos have been a part of an existing game but recently JTS has gone further and posted Grenada and Mius ’43 as complete games. Now, players can really test a system before buying.
A Very Small Island and a Little Hollywood
The US invasion of Grenada in 1963 was initially hailed as a flawless operation. As is always the case, later investigations found that things did not go completely smooth for the visiting team. Designer Jeff Conner uses the Tiller Squad Battles engine to look at some of these blemishes on an army such coming out of the Vietnam malaise.
The graphics are nice if not brilliant. Terrain has the semi-tropical jungle of the area, swamps, lakes and streams. Roads, trails and bridges are present. Buildings are dull brown rectangles but the unfinished air strip is represented by grey hexes as are obstacles. Vehicles are seen as silhouettes’ and unit counters have head and shoulder images of troops with leader counters marked with a tiny star. The outstanding graphic is the unit info bar at the bottom. Detailed portraits of individual leaders and squads are wonderfully portrayed along with fine images of their weapons and equipment. These pictures include number of men, status, movement points, available shots and morale with chain of command on the reverse. Animation features tracers, smoke from explosions, grenades and shells. Mortar hits create craters in the landscape. Sound effects have the sound of weapons being cocked for movement and rattle or booms for combat. Speech is limited to the Spanish of Cuban leaders.
Play starts with choosing from the ten scenarios and a tutorial. The sizes of the scenarios range from platoon to battalion level with eight to eighteen five-minute turns. Each scenario represents key moments in the invasion such as securing the airport and rescuing the British Governor-General. The basic mechanics are the usual left/right clicks and drags. Very important is the option to have troops “hit the dirt”, trading speed for safety. Some weapons such as the LAW anti-tank rocket launcher are single-use weapons that can be toggled to hold fire when a target isn’t appropriate. The most common weapons are the M-16, the M60 machine gun and the “blooper” grenade launcher. Some US vehicles also have M60s but such vehicles are round-bound. Leaders not only rally troops but can call in mortar and gunship support. Mortars can fire HE, phosphorus and smoke rounds but tend to widely scatter hits. The air support is accurate and deadly but only comes two turns after being called. The Cuban/Grenadians troops are not push-overs as they have the only armored vehicles. The AI handles them in a cunning fashion. Victory levels are determined with points for gaining objectives and the number of casualties inflicted and received.
A very clever addition is a four-scenario campaign. The storyline of the movie Heartbreak Ridge is followed closely. Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood) leads his Marine recon platoon through the jungle and hills of Grenada and deals with pesky Cubans and green lieutenants. Losses don’t carry over from scenario to scenario but the play is fun. One can almost hear Gunny’s raspy whisper (You can run me, you can starve me and beat me and you can kill me; just don’t bore me”) with the harmonica going “Doo-Wah-Wah” in the background.
From the Tropics to the Steppes
Mius ’43 throws players into a more savage conflict using the Panzer Campaigns system than a week-long police action where the outcome was never in doubt. The Mius River had seen action since 1941 when the Germans built a line of fortifications along it to secure parts of the Ukraine. In 1943, the Soviets decided that, with the German offensive power exhausted at Kursk, it was time to take everything back.
Terrain for this game is largely sparse with different colors for elevations that can be seen as raised hexes in the close up view and modified with optional features such as contours. The river and roads are clearly seen as are the few cities and villages. Optional labels mark villages and important hills. Units can be viewed as 2D NATO counters, 3D counters with information on them or very tiny icons. Unit information can be seen in a hex info box as described above in the Grenada section. Turning on divisional markings not only aids in command and control but adds a bit of color to the proceedings. The thousands of German mines are represented by two circles zoomed out and by small blocks when zoomed in. German trenches look like dun hex lines. Animation includes arrows for movement, tracers for small arms fire and orange blasts for shell bursts. Sound is the grinding of trucks and tanks, the hollow boom of mines, rattle of machine guns, swoosh of rockets and crash of artillery. Calling in air missions invokes the pounding of flak guns and shrill whistle of falling bombs.
Along with the tutorial, this game has only two scenarios but what scenario they are. Comprising sixty-six two-hour turns with one kilometre hexes, the game almost demands players to pack a lunch and stay the day. The first scenario is historic while the second sees Waffen SS divisions arriving earlier. Units are battalion, company or platoon size and the basic movement and combat mechanics are the same as most Tiller games with three exceptions. All units can go into travel mode, increasing speeds but also increasing vulnerability. Artillery must go into travel mode to move and then spend an undetermined number of turns to set up when destinations are reached. Air and artillery missions are called directly via appropriate dialogues. Options for supply can make logistics more complicated than the default option.
The ball opens with a massive Russian bombardment all along the line. The Germans are well dug-in so actual losses other than a few disruptions are minimal. Russian infantry advance to the minefields and begin clearing them by the expedient of running over them and taking losses although a few engineer units use more conventional methods. Risking counter-battery fire, German artillery returns the favor, shelling huge Russian stacks near the front lines in hopes of stalling assaults by inflicting disruptions. Adjacent German troops fire at the stacks for the same purpose. Only a few units move from their bunkers and trenches to aid the advances positions as they know the struggle will be a long one. Units in the rear wait until Russian breakthroughs are identified. Minefields take two turns to clear so Russian assaults in the second turn achieve no penetrations but drain German forces. When breakthroughs are finally made, Russian armor exploits them. The second German line of defense stalls them long enough for German reinforcements to counter-attack. In short, the clash resembles World War I with T-34s and Stugs. Such a battle of attrition ends badly for the Germans even though the Red Army will be too exhausted to fully exploit their success.
Tiller games always start controversy. Many gamers are disappointed in their graphics and point out that the basic system hasn’t changed much in years. Others, though, appreciate the detailed research that goes into them and understand the logic behind Tiller’s system. These conflicting views are what make the complete demo games good things. Curious beginners can get a taste of the Squad Battles and Panzer Campaign systems without buyer’s remorse. They can play others with hotseat, internet and PBEM modes and can fully grasp the richness of the retail products. Gamers a bit short of the ready can burn the files to a CD or simply send the links as holiday presents. Such presents can give fun without bankruptcy. We should all help others experience all the styles of gaming but there is no need to go broke doing it.