What do you get when you take a very popular, computer based naval warfare game, then change all the oceans to the forests and fields of 1944 Western Europe, and all the ships to tanks that fought in this same environment? What you get is Mythical City Games new $19.99 PC offering, Battle Fleet Ground Assault (or for this review BFGA).
And like their World War II naval game, Battlefleet 2, the game is quite popular and has attracted a pretty large following, with comments like “Just plain fun!” gracing the game’s Steam page. So, when the boss asked me to find out why, I jumped at the opportunity.
Here’s the intel report.
According to Steam this game should run well on low end machines, but I did not find this the case. The minimum specs are Win 7 SP1 or later, Core 2 duo 2.4 MHZ processor, 2 gigs of RAM, a 512 MB video card, Direct X 9.0 and 500 MB of hard drive space. I usually do reviews on my wife’s Lenovo work station, which is low end but certainly exceeds these minimum requirements. The game ran very slow and choppy, particularly the mouse and the delay between click and action was noticeable. On the other hand, on my rig (the one NASA rents to move the International Space Station), no problem. Here we are talking about a Quad 4.2 MHZ processor, 32 GB RAM, 4 TB hard drive space, high end NVIDEA . . . well, you get the picture. The game ran as smooth as silk and faster than the Millennium Falcon on the Kessel Run. I’ve yet to have a crash and installation was a snap.
The game uses 3D graphics for all its tactical engagements, and while not absolutely top of the line (the anti-aliasing department especially), they are quite good and more than hold their own against the competition. A comparison of the actual real estate and buildings reminded me a lot of the quality and style of Matrix Scourge of War Waterloo, and that’s pretty darn good. The tank models are especially well defined, and – saints be praised – are in the proper coloring and insignia for this stage of the war. This means no Panzers painted grey, but rather tan with various types of forest green and rust brown mottled camouflage. Shermans do not have some funky red or blue stripe for identification as to which side they are on. Explosions look real and I liked seeing each shot whip down range until impact. I’ve seen real tanks on the firing range, and yes, you can really see the round fly towards the target.
The game offers several options of going right into tank on tank combat, to include Quick Battles where the AI chooses everything for you or Custom Battles where you choose the turf (say Normandy), sides (US, British or German) and the number and type of tanks deployed (bought from a list using an initial allocation of points), although some vehicles are locked out until you win a few rounds. However, the heart of the game seems to be a simple campaign system, emphasis on “simple.”
Players choose one of the three combatants, then are presented with a map of 1944 Western Europe around or after the 6th June D-Day Invasion. The map is subdivided into various areas each with a national icon that shows the number of tanks (if any) in the area, the number of transports (if any), the number of airstrikes available (if any) and the number of industrial points produced (wait for it . . . if any). These latter points are pooled for your army to produced and purchase new tanks, but again some vehicles are locked out until you start winning tactical battles. The German Panther is noteworthy here.
To conquer one of these territories, and thus rob the enemy of industrial points and so on, the player simply moves an icon from one of his areas into an adjacent unfriendly area. If both sides’ icons show tanks, the player is immediately transferred to a battle map representing typical terrain of the region and tactical combat begins. For example, if the US invades Norway and its icon shows five tanks, there will be five tank models positioned in the map. If his German opponent shows six tanks, then six tanks models will be deployed. The AI does this for the player and the force is always a mixture of vehicles plus transports, not five British Churchill’s for example. Oddly, there are only tanks, no infantry anything in the game.
If you win this 3D slug out, you capture the enemy’s territory and decrease his industrial capacity. For your side, tanks may be replaced or repaired using your own industrial points compiled at army level. Its actually simpler than described here, and while it may not be very realistic, it works.
Tank on Tank
When you get to the battle map in BFGA, although your forces are positioned and visible on the map, the enemies are not. Instead you have to be within sighting range and have an unobstructed line of sight to the vehicle before it pops up on the map, normally in the worst location imaginable for the player. This can be a real challenge as some battles, seem to take place at night, dusk or dawn. Thermal scopes are not in vogue.
BFGA uses an integrated, alternating turn sequence, which exposes the game’s naval heritage. Assume you are the Germans in Southern France and your force consists of two Panzer IV Js, two Panzer IIIs and a Sturmgeschutze III, while your Commonwealth foe brings two Churchill’s, a Crusader and two Stuarts to oppose you. At the bottom of the screen you’ll find a bar with counters displaying silhouette icons (some with the wrong image, but this was a Beta) listed in order of their XPs, which I assume are some kind of activity points. The tank with the highest number of XPs goes first, the one with the second highest number second and so on. Thus, in a single turn, normally one of 25, a British Churchill (thick hided beast) could start, followed by a Panzer IV H, then another, then a Cromwell, then a Stuart, then two Panzer IIIs and so on. A tank must complete all its actions before the next tank begins.
And there are only two actions – Move and Fire. A single tank may either move twice, or move once and fire, the latter action allowing for two rounds down range. If movement is picked, a large movement circle is dropped on the tank and all the player does is click on a point within the circle for the vehicle to move to. It will do so automatically, the AI maneuvering it around obstacles and the like. At the end, the tank gets a free change of facing to boot. When firing, a similar targeting circle is dropped divided into distances of 100 something. Firing the vehicle is done with a compass like device to draw a straight line to the target. The player then chooses AP (Armor Piercing) of HE (High Explosive), and then the amount of distance keyed elevation power to put behind his round. Finally, one click, and “BANG,” shot out and its quite possible you could overshoot or undershoot your target. Getting the hang of eyeballing the range is really one of the most distinctive features of the game.
Its also possible while moving to acquire ‘ammo crates’ that convey some sort of bonus in the form of a Strategy Card. I nabbed two, both allowing me to pick one tank for upgraded gun optics, thus dividing the targeting circle into distances of 50 vice 100. Its kinda hokey and Doom like, but great for a laugh.
I’ve often said there are WARgames and warGAMES, but with BFGA we seem to have a hybrid. The actual tanks themselves seem well presented, both visually and in the accuracy department, but otherwise, the game is about historically realistic as a Brussels Sprout. But I really, REALLY like the way the game plays, particularly hidden movement, the integrated, alternating turn sequence and the range finding process. The latter really impressed upon me the difficulties of engagement without auto-laser range finders.
So yes, “It’s just plain fun!” and after games where brain cell melting is an integral part of play, this is exactly what you need. Its not that expensive, so I’d recommend you give it a shot. And it was intriguing enough to me that I went back and picked up the naval edition for $14.99. Just take the game for what it is and have a blast.