Review: Battle Academy 212 Sep 2014 0
Review: Battle Academy 2
Released 13 Sep 2014
For those (few I expect) readers who aren?t aware of what Battle Academy is, it is a turn-based strategy game set in World War 2 that pits players against the AI (or other players) in a series of scenarios that are based upon historical events. In the case of Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front these are (obviously, duh) based on the campaigns in the Soviet Union and cover the period from the initial Axis invasion ? Operation Barbarossa, 1941 ? through to the start of the Soviet?s final push towards Germany and the end of the war in Europe ? Operation Bagration, 1944. The final campaign of 1945 is not covered; perhaps this will be an expansion at some future date? Scenario maps are tile-based, squares rather than hexes, but troops can face corners as well as sides of the tiles, so they effectively may be placed in one of eight directions. Turn-based, most units get two shots during the player?s turn as well as a movement allowance. Additionally they can usually shoot in response to enemy action during the AI/other player?s turn. When applicable units can have several modes of attack. For example, infantry can shoot at enemy at a distance with their rifles/SMGs, but when closer they?ll hurl grenades (which is shown in the unit animation), and if next to an enemy unit have the option to assault into the tile and attempt to overwhelm their target. Some infantry also have anti-tank ability and can attempt to assault armour, although it is best to sneak up on them to do this for obvious reasons.
Each scenario has its own set of mission objectives that must be met within a certain turn limit. Before the mission starts you are given a set amount of points and a small force pool to select from. This gives players the chance to form their force around their own strategy. Sometimes you will receive reinforcements on the field to help, but you will not know exactly what these are, so it is important to make sure you have a good initial force selection for the mission in question. Obviously given the time span the campaigns cover the troops available for selection change, with new and better (not to mention bigger) options becoming available.
For gamers who have played the original Battle Academy series they will note a number of changes/upgrades from the original game. The most obvious of these, initially, is the look of the game. Eastern Front has had a serious makeover, as you will see from the screenshots below. It has lost some of the ?cartoonish? look of the original game and is now more ?serious? in look and feel. No doubt this will help Battle Academy 2 get the attention of some gamers who did not like the look of the original because of that ?cartoonish? look. Whilst I personally did not mind the look of Battle Academy, I much prefer that of version 2. Despite this more ?serious? look, the game is still going to be accessible to gamers who are not usually attracted by wargames due to their often off-putting graphics. The developers have obvious aimed to strike a balance here and, I think, they have had a good stab at it. Other major changes from Battle Academy are:
- Partial damage: a unit isn't just fully functional or destroyed anymore; they can suffer partial damage which affects how they operate. This partial damage can be light or heavy and the categories I've seen are: immobilised, secondary weapons disabled, main weapons disabled, reduced visibility, reduced action points. These certainly add to the game, but can really frustrate your plans as I found in the scenario where one of my tanks suffer a hit which knocked out its guns just when I needed it to force the pace; great ?
- Smoke: dead useful this one; as you?d expect it lays down a smoke barrage that obscures line of sight so your troops can be safe from the enemy (hopefully), it disperses over time and this is not uniform over the barrage which is a nice touch. Smoke can be available from an ?off table? artillery barrage, from some tanks, from on field artillery or from some categories of troops (e.g. sappers). Takes some getting used to using but can be vital in scenarios where you have to attack a tough defensive position (and there are a few of those ?).
- Trenches: affect how line of sight works as well as providing cover; you need to look along them to see the enemy properly.
- Barbed wire: stops infantry moving; tanks flatten it, however.
- Air superiority: as well as air strikes there are now air fights to determine who has air superiority which then allows you more freedom of air actions for 3+ turns.
There are other things (one biggie is covered below as it deserves a section to itself), however, it would be tedious to list everything in detail ? you?ll find them when you play J
What Do You Get?
As mentioned above, the game ships with a number of campaigns comprising a number of scenarios. The scenarios remain stand alone with no units carrying over as you progress, nor does your degree of success affect later scenarios. In some ways this is a shame, however, as you can play the scenarios any number of times, and in any order, I guess it sort of makes sense. Personally I?d have liked to have had the option to play a campaign through with no replays, etc. but the world is not a perfect place, alas. The campaigns are:
- Operation Barbarossa - 9 scenarios played as the Axis
- The Winter Counter Offensive - 7 scenarios played as the Soviets
- Third Battle of Kharkov - 7 scenarios played as the Axis
- Operation Bagration - 8 scenarios played as the Soviets
There is also a single tutorial scenario to introduce new players into the game. Old hands will be able to jump straight into the game, however, as the basic interface and controls remain the same as Battle Academy.
The basic Battle Academy interface remains the same in the new version. No bad thing as it was easy to pick up and use. Click on a unit and where it can move to is highlighted as are any possible targets for shooting or assaulting. Suppressed units are marked with a white flag (appropriate) and partially damaged units with a cog-like symbol ? and mouse over the unit tells you what the partial damage effect is. Unit animation is simple, but effective. There are 3 difficulty levels in solo play. Oddly ?Normal? is the highest level of difficulty, and at this setting the player and the AI are on a level playing field in terms of how the mechanisms work. Next down is ?Easy? where the players units are tougher and are better shots than those the AI controls. Finally there is ?Very Easy? where the player has even more advantages. In all honesty the last is way too easy except, maybe, when just starting out with the game (or you just need an ego boosting quick victory). The middle setting is a better place to start for the average gamer, and you?ll be looking to play on Normal most of the time once you are comfortable with the game in my opinion. I have to say that I prefer the difficulty approach adopted by the upcoming Pike and Shot game (which uses the Battle Academy engine, see preview here), where the difficulty setting affects the troops available and their quality, rather than how the game mechanisms work.
Although the game is simple to get the hang of and play don?t let this lull you into a false sense of security. Real tactics and strategies are needed to win. Things like as attacking tanks from the rear, scouting out terrain, or using suppression fire to approach enemy positions are all required skills. And be sure that the AI will be using these as well. This in itself makes the gameplay very rewarding; suppressing an AT gun to have your infantry sneak up on its flank and assault the sandbag fortification it is in is rewarding. It can be frustrating to be on the other end of these tactics, but any other way would detract from the gameplay and challenge. Also, whilst we?re mentioning the AI it is worth noting that it is sensible and a good challenge, especially on Normal mode where your troops have no artificial advantages.
The scenarios are, on the whole, well designed and balanced. If you find one a bit easy up the difficulty level and you?ll get a better challenge ? unless, of course, you?re already on Normal setting. Most of them also stand up well to replaying. One thing worth noting about the scenarios for players of the original game is that some of them are pretty big, and also can run for a larger number of turns ? in Battle Academy 20 turns was about the max, however, BA2 has some with 30 as the time limit. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on you the individual; personally I liked it although some did eat up an alarming amount of time.
As we all know playing against the AI, no matter how good, is usually not as challenging as playing against a real human opponent. Eastern Front comes with multi-player support using Slitherine?s PBEM++ server based system. There is also a co-operative mode where 2 players can share the troops of one side. One good thing about the multi-player mode is that you can command the side that you would normally not be allowed to play when in single player mode.
The Jewel in the Crown?
Despite all the good stuff mentioned above, the real stand out feature of Battle Academy 2 is the new Skirmish option. This feature allows you to set up a random battlefield and scenario to fight out. However, and this is the clever bit, the feature allows you to define the parameters that the game uses to generate the random battle. So you get to define:
- Map size: Very Small to Very Large
- Map type: Urban, Wilderness, Farmland
- Style: Russia, Russia snow (affects movement significantly)
- Scenario type: Attack, Defend, Meeting Engagement, Symmetric
- Force size: Very Small to Very Large
- Player side: Axis or Soviet
- Army list: Random, Player Choice (you can even fight Axis against Axis or Soviet against Soviet should you so desire)
Additionally there are a host of Advanced Options which allow you to fine tune the scenario.
So what you have is a tool that gives you the ability to generate what feels like an almost infinite variety of battles to fight. It is almost like a scenario designer but without having to get into the nitty gritty of designing the battlefield tile by tile and setting up the forces available. And if all that wasn?t enough, it is even available in multi-player. Seriously, if Battle Academy 2 shipped with just the Skirmish mode and no scenarios, it would still be a great game in my view. Yes, I really like it that much!
I think it?ll be obvious by now that I like this game ? a lot. In fact I think I have now played nearly all the included scenarios, some more than once, and am addicted to the Skirmish option ? an ideal way to pass a lunch hour at work. OK, we do have to recognise that for the gamer looking for a heavy weight grand strategy game this will not be what they are looking for, and also that the simulation is not going to satisfy those looking for tip top realism. That said, for the majority of wargamers I think this will be a really good game, and will deliver a hell of a lot of game play. As I said above, I reckon the Skirmish mode alone could well be worth the game?s price.
TL:DR: a highly recommended, great value, skirmish mode is brilliant. Give it a go.