North German Plain '8518 Nov 2004 0
Editor's Note: It has been brought to out attention that several of the author's original comments about the documentation were incorrect. We have removed the inaccuracies cited by the author and we apologize for any confusion or inconvenience caused to our reviewers, the developer, or HPS.
Some of the best wargames ever made recreate desperate, pitched battles where the stakes are as high as the ammunition expended. Thank God we never had to see a Warsaw Pact versus NATO showdown, but throughout the 1980?s it was a possibility, and it spawned so many computer and board games that anyone with the desire could become an armchair strategist and fight a modern, conventional World War III in Europe without the fear of having real intercontinental ballistic missiles land on their heads.
Nuclear Armageddon was a very real fear for me in the 1980?s, and while my fellow high school students, mostly in Army JROTC like myself in the mid-1980?s, would gush and fawn over becoming Airborne Rangers and SEALs someday, I instead watched Wargames incessantly and read Red Storm Rising about a hundred times. The idea of World War III scared me, not just for the very real possibility of such a war, but also because I knew so many people stationed in Germany at the time.
HPS Simulations is known for its classic boardgame-style depiction of combat, both modern and otherwise, and while some carp about how Tiller?s games seem like cookie-cutter imposters posing as new titles, I instead believe their past work is excellent and choose to reserve my observations based on what each game individually offers a gamer interested in the theme.
North German Plain ?85 is a depiction of, ostensibly enough, hypothetical World War III conventional battles in Northern Germany. Players control either the Warsaw Pact forces, including the Third Shock Army (and its four Guards Tank Divisions, as well as numerous add-on units) or NATO forces comprised of West Germany, the United Kingdom, French, Dutch, and a few others. The action is depicted on a map that is 2D top-down with an option to display in 3D that really doesn?t add a lot of visual clarity to the game over the default 2D view.
Over this map, players move their forces and try to control key locations for Victory Points. These points may also be gained or lost based on the number of casualties inflicted or taken, respectively. While the Warsaw Pact tends to be much more numerous than their NATO foes, the NATO forces tend to have better equipment. Also, units from the Soviet Union proper tend to have better equipment than their Warsaw Pact allies; Polish troops can be expected to not perform as well as their Soviet counterparts, for instance. Regardless, Warsaw Pact units have a lot more targets for NATO to shoot at and a better chance of losing points because of casualties inflicted.
Red Bears Rising
Without a doubt, the subject matter is serious, but losses are dealt with in a typical HPS abstract, sterile way. There?s no suffering along with friendly casualties, although their ?pain? is displayed on each unit?s counter; here the player can visualize the unit?s fatigue, strength, and morale levels. The feeling therefore garnered is more of a Front Commander sitting safe and secure (for the moment anyway) deep inside a bunker and far to the rear of the fighting, instead of being in the trenches and seeing the futility of ordering yet another Soviet assault by a depleted tank battalion against an equally depleted but powerful NATO unit that refuses to give ground.
This game concentrates a lot more on the ground component of such a conflict instead of detailing the air war. I assume that air superiority missions are beyond the scope and necessity of the player?s concerns, although ground support air strikes and recon missions are available to select. Also, both sides have helicopter units that are portrayed on the map as live units, and are extremely mobile and deadly but equally easily swatted out of the sky. I think back to a game by SSI entitled Red Lightning, which depicted all of these components: one of the most entertaining aspects of that was managing the air resources available and delegating them to different roles while dealing with the losses and strain such operations imposed on them. I do think such a thing is beyond the scope of North German Plain ?85, but it would have been a nice inclusion if at a reduced level.