Battlefront – A Review

Strategic Studies Group
Requires 64K Apple
Australian Apple Review June 1987

Nowhere is the expression ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’ more apt than when describing wargames. In the days pre-computer, wargaming was not only an art of strategy and tactics on the battlefield, but also around the house where firstly irate parents would threaten to throw the chits out the window, and later far more irate spouses.

The computer, however, changed all this. No longer does it take an hour or two just to set up the board, and no longer does it take weekends shut up with some sweaty person who threatens your sanity by acting possessed of the spirit of Napoleon or Adolf. But far more importantly, the computer can take care of all the housekeeping with some degree of honesty – unlike human adversaries where leaving the enemy alone with a hundred odd pieces of cardboard can lead to greater losses than through an ill-conceived manoeuvre.

For those who have been bitten by the bug and find a fascination in recreating, and hopefully changing a little bit of history, wargaming becomes a passion. And the extent of this passion can be measured by the ads which in 1979 sold ‘The $2,160 Wargame’. Of this fortunately, about S2,100 was for the Apple and the remainder for the program, Computer Bismark.

Today Apples are far more predominant and the sophistication of the games has increased dramatically, as has the ease of playing. And Battlefront, the latest from Roger Keating and Ian Trout certainly is a very playable yet detailed wargame.

Battlefront is a corps level simulation and with several features which make it relatively simple to learn and play. It consists of four World War II battles – Crete 20-26 May 1941, Stalingrad 17-23 December 1942, Saipan 15-30 June 1944 and Bastogne 18-26 December 1944, and the ability for the player to modify maps, terrain, strengths of units and support.

Battlefront can be played against another human with the computer keeping everything honest, against the computer, or the computer can play itself and you can watch. This last feature is excellent for novices to get a feel for the game, or for more experienced players to test out their own scenarios.

The player is cast in the role of a corps commander, leading up to three divisions, to a total of about 60 batallions of 14 different types including infantry, armour, artillery, airborne, engineer, anti-air, anti-tank, assault guns and tank destroyers, all of varying strength and experience. Where such games become complex is when orders have to be issued to each batallion before it can move. Ordinarily this requires quite an alert mind and screen dumps are not without merit. It also requires an understanding of the notations used by the particular game and in board game simulations, a move can take hours. In Battlefront, however, a complete scenario can be played in that time.

The simplicity of the play is achieved by the player giving general orders to regimental commanders and they (computer) attempt to carry them out. The orders are not as difficult to give as first appears. Selection is made from a series of menus which identify the division and then the regiment ( division can have four regiments and a regiment, four battalions). A subsequent set of menus then lets the player determine an action for the regiment and when the selections are complete, the computer moves, fights or rests or completes whatever action was determined.

In some cases this proves impossible immediately, as for example, if the player wants to attack a town but the batallions come under unexpected enemy fire. In such cases, new orders need to be issued and control restored.

As well as the four scenarios, Battlefront has editing features which allow even the creation of a scenario totally your own. This will probably not appeal to the new user, but can help in balancing a conflict when playing against an experienced wargamer. The feature is again menu driven and very simple to use. It also means that the game is limitless in the variations of play which can be devised. Most war games don’t play the same way twice. Battlefront, however, lets you change the map upon which you play, so every encounter can be new.

I was very impressed with the software. If it’s your meat, then it’s sirloin. The game is well balanced and open enough to provide countless hours of battle.

My major regret with the package is that undoubtedly the most forceful and important of the scenarios presented is reduced to a chase. The reason is that the smallest unit addressable by the player is the regiment, whereas Stalingrad really requires ‘Squad Leader’ type, or individual detail.

The battle for Stalingrad, which before World War II stretched some 30 miles along the west bank of the Volga, started on 23 August 1942 and lasted until 2 February 1943. It was one of the bloodiest battles ever waged, predominantly hand-to-hand from street to street, house to house and even cellar to cellar. It was an insane battle, though probably all battles are insane, for in those few months over a million people were either killed or captured in the fighting.

Stalingrad was fought in the streets by individuals rather than the careful placement of units across a battlefield. Buildings were reduced to rubble, held, lost, recaptured and lost again. Buildings became the objectives, not towns, hills or forests, and the front line often came within several hundred yards of headquarters.

The game however, does not focus on this part of history. It looks at an outside event which could have changed the outcome marginally. In early November, the Soviets began an offensive which trapped the Nazi Sixth Army at Stalingrad. In order to free the remnants, a counter attack was launched from the river Don. It came to within 30 miles of the city and then stopped. The date was 15 December, 1945, and it was winter in Russia.

Battlefront allows you to push on and attempt to free the Sixth Army from the comfort of a warm living room. This is undoubtedly a minor irritation, because the player doesn’t need to know the history in order to play the game. In some cases, it is probably even a hindrance to know as then it becomes a battle to avoid the same mistakes.

In conclusion, this is an excellent piece of software. It is Australian and better than anything worldwide.

For wargamers, it is definitely worth a very close look.

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