El Alamein '42 Gold Review22 May 2019 0
El Alamein '42 Gold Review
Released 11 May 2019
I kinda pick-and-choose my wargaming as anything after 1914 because that’s when the French lost their flamboyant red pantaloons and let’s face it, if you can’t go out to fight looking good, why go at all? Yet even in World War II there are some campaigns that really just float my U-Boat. Nope, nothing on the West Front, because I’m just tired hearing about the “Greatest Generation,” and nothing in the East because seriously, how many times can you do Stalingrad?
But the campaign in North Africa? Yeah, that’s the ticket for many reasons, not the least of which is the Regio Esercito (Italian Army). I like underdogs, particularly those with tough, courageous soldiers whose only fault was third rate equipment (though the excellent, turn on a Lira CR42 Falco biplane gave the RAF fits for, like, ever) and even worse leadership.
Thus I was tickled to hear that the final set of games refurbished to Gold status within the JTS Panzer Campaigns franchise were all about North Africa. Then I became downright ecstatic when the Boss let me pick the El Alamein ’42 Gold product to take a look at.
Bottom line – first rate. If you have the original, this is a free upgrade, but if not, $39.95 US are gonna be shekels well spent.
New Paint and Detailing
Like other games gone Gold, a lot of the changes in Alamein are cosmetic. However, don’t underrate the importance of this. Good graphics and sound can make the game easier to play due to being able to easily distinguish different type of terrain, units and info counters with the Mark I eyeball in front of a computer screen. They can also be a sign of historical accuracy, giving the player an indication the designer did his job in the realism department. Finally, there is the immersion factor. Napoleon said, “give me enough ribbon for the tunics of my soldiers and I will conquer the world.” He knew looking good strengthened performance and I think something similar here. A game that looks current and stylish just seems to increase the fun factor. Don’t think so? Take a look at some of the recent reboots of old classics counter wargames and ask which one you would rather play.
Surprisingly, it was the sound effects upgrade that caught my attention first and the most. Yes, you have the rattle of machine guns and hard thud of artillery explosions, but now they seem far more like what I heard at Truppenubungsplatz Grafenwoehr when I was stationed in Germany with the US Army. In addition, not only can voices be heard giving commands in the background, but now that distinctive “clink” when an artillery round is ejected from the breach as well. First rate, mate.
Otherwise the top menu bar has been redone in icon style, segregated by color for general functionality. The left side bar where unit tiles with stats are displayed now portray more photographic looking pictures, especially of soldiers and leaders. All equipment is not only the right type but in the proper camouflage specific to that type of vehicle, vice an overall pattern for the army. Terrain hexes now sport that light middle “bubble” with soft double edge hex sides. The color palette is perfect for North Africa and you’ll have little trouble distinguishing terrain, but will likely wonder why your gaming room feels a little warmer.
The same thing for the unit counters which have both a 3D option with mini-portraits and vehicle sprites, or the more traditional NATO symbology set. Oddly enough, the latter seems to have changed since I was in the military, as I actually had to look up some units, notably air defense which used a dome type symbol way back when. In the game the French (as in Free French Marines) are in dark blue, the Germans in blue gray, the Italians in rust orange and the Commonwealth forces in beige-tan. You can flip a switch and put a colored background to the NATO symbols to indicate parent division and in a neat bit of design, some counters are split diagonally into two colors as in indication of a different nationality or specialized function. For example, some Italian units split have rust/half grey black indicating the unit is CCNN (Camicie Nere, Black Shirt, or more politely Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale).
And lo and behold, Political Correctness has also entered the fray as a certain, disreputable hooked cross has been replace by the Eisenkreuz for certain symbols, to include the regulation German Wehrmacht standard. Its kinda like having a miniature wargame on Gettysburg without the Army of Northern Virginia carrying any Battle Flags, but it is what it is. I prefer to think, however, somehow the Kaiser was still in charge.
Under the Hood
As regards changes in the actual gameplay department, not so much. There are only four and they are a) unit movement is no longer halved when disrupted during day, while after dark the reduction is two thirds, b) Place All Reinforcements function (I really like this) added, c) fragile morale included for some armies and d) national surrender has been included as well. Maybe it’s a “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” thing, but that’s all.
The big horsepower change in the engine block comes in the form of scenarios, both quantitively and qualitatively. First, the numbers. In the original software Alamein boasted 34 scenarios, but this time around the JTS folks have added an additional 46 for a grand total of 80. Of these 33 had been previously designed by well known modder Ed “Volcano Man” Williams, to include 33 alternate or hypothetical actions and 11 more from his Operation Compass (the British offensive against the Italians 9 December 1940 thru 9 February 1941, Sidi Barrani to El Agheila) expansion. There are also two knew uber researched campaign games, one by Bryan Jennings on Operation Venezia (from the codeword Venezia, starting Rommel’s massive flanking movement at the battle of Gazala) and another on 2nd El Alamein by Cesar Moreno.
Even the old, original scenarios seemed to have been more than cosmetically touched up in a few cases. Some look as if they now have different or enlarged maps, starting forces or initial setup up schemes. Regardless, this is a huge package of games to play, all starting in early 1941 with Compass and going thru the aftermath of 2nd El Alamein. There are also a couple, or so scenarios devoted to a hypothetical German-Italian invasion of Malta, so just about all the battles you could hope for are covered.
But how does it play? Well, pretty good because when you play one Panzer Campaign product, you kinda play them all. Per a previous product review this means, left-click selects a unit, movement is right-click on adjacent hexes or left-click drag. Firing is accomplished by switching to “Fire” on the menu and clicking on the target or right-click + CTRL on the target. Artillery and air strikes are called by choosing a battery or squadron and right clicking on hex in range. Assaults are accomplished by moving onto an adjacent enemy position.
More importantly, however, the campaign environment is a lot different than other games in the series, which is why I like it. For example, let’s take a look at...
The Defense of Tobruk
No this isn’t about the Allied defense of the place, but a scenario (called Hallowed Ground) where Italian Generale di Corpo d'Armata Annibale "barba elettrica" Bergonzoli covered the rout of the Italian army during Compass by digging in his heels at Tobruk. Old “Electric Whiskers,” as he was called, proved a tough nut to crack initially, particularly by a pursuing Commonwealth force becoming increasingly short on fuel and stamina. The game is only 17 turns long with two hour turns, one kilometer hexes and battalion type units. Because so many units are initially fixed in place, this is a particularly good scenario to learn the system if you play the Italians. Bergonzoli and the lads are on the defense, are in a lot better shape logistically and are really forced to react to the British and Australians, making the conduct of the battle simpler. Also, you gotta love that both Italian (the San Giorgio) and British (Ladybird and Aphis) heavy cruisers slug it out with shore batteries and each other.
In this battle the Italians are hunkered down behind minefields, bunkers and trenches held by “leg” infantry supported by a lot of guns. Other artillery and mobile armored forces are centrally located in “fire brigade” status, initially fixed on the ground. The not so loyal opposition has the bulk of its forces, motorized infantry, massed on the eastern flank of the Tobruk fortifications, with a much less dense screen of similar troops facing the western flank. All British armored or mobile forces face Tobruk from the south, and in a neat little twist, a Yuge portion of their army is labeled as Isolated for supply, low on ammo and in particular, low on fuel.
I played two games, one as the British, the other as Bergonzoli and over all I found the AI running the Commonwealth to be relatively passive, massing their infantry between Bir el Azazi and Bir Suesi for an eventual attack. When running the Italians, however, the AI became very proactive with probing attacks, sending a lot of engineers forward and then stripping infantry with artillery from the fortifications facing south and massing them along the western flank. No kidding, there was a line of at least six hexes, as in six kilometers, completely devoid of any Italian units whatsoever. I wondered “what the Hell” but then it hit me (OK, I looked it up) – Bergonzoli was attempting a breakout to the west into Libya along the Via Balbia. I launched every Matilda, Stuart and tracked kitchen sink I had into the gap only to be mired in minefields and bunkers while seemingly all the cannon Ansaldo every produced rained Hell. Then a lot of my units simply stopped because they ran out of gas. I would have liked to see this engagement go on more than a few extra turns, but the scenario was merciful and ended.
So, note(s) to self. In this game, unlike others in the series, engineers can be a big deal because there seem to be mines everywhere. On the battlefield, tactical supply is a big deal, especially fuel. Movement rates are deceptive with trails and roads an absolute must to get anywhere even remotely fast. Nothing on either side seems capable of inflicting a lot of casualties (and there isn’t a lot of airpower), as I don’t think I ever saw a result more than two or three KIA. Bunkers are manned, even if there isn’t a unit counter sitting in the hex, and so on and so on.
Yup, a good deal
In other words, Alamein may have gone Gold cosmetically, but nothing has changed as regards the high quality of play and the game’s ability to accurately simulate warfare at this level. Garnish this with a substantial face lift that not only looks state of the art and highly professional, but also more informative and easier to translate into play, and you have a solid product plus. Then top the entire meal with a desert (get it, desert?) baked in the unique North African battlefield environment. I like it, you’ll like it, so I’ll happily recommend it.