Saturday, June 03, 2006

Old School Wargaming on the Computer

One of my early geeky hobbies was board wargaming. Using cardboard counters on a hex grid to recreate historical battles. Panzerblitz, Squad Leader and others. The complex rules these games used, often involving odds calculations modified by a host of factors, cried out for computer automation. When personal computers made their appearance, the first turn based wargames weren't far behind. Strangely enough, these games often were simplified versions of their cardboard cousins. Strange because the computer allowed for more complication. Instead we often got less, but with flashy graphics.

In the meantime, the world of board wargames has shrunk, but it has still continued on. The old powerhouses of SPI and Avalon Hill are gone, but their successors continue to turn out all sorts of good games, most of them far more playable than the old monster games of the past. But where have the computer wargames gone?

The answer is that they've gone "underground". Turn based games in general have become less and less common, and pure wargames have almost disappeared. Fortunately, that is "almost" and not "completely". There are still a few out there making these games, most notably Matrix Games and HPS Simulations. Matrix Games' Korsun Pocket is probably the most polished board-style wargame released for the computer. It's a great game, but it's been a while since I've played it, so I'm not going to try to review it anytime soon. Instead I'm going to look at HPS Simulations Panzer Campaigns series, specifically Kharkov '42 (the screenshot at the top of the page is from the game).

The Panzer Campaigns series includes 15 games covering different operations in the European and African theatres. Covering famous campaigns such as Stalingrad, Market-Garden, Normandy, and the Bulge, as well as lesser known operations like Kharkov and Rzhev.

I picked Kharkov because I was looking for more information in putting together my Flames of War Soviet force that was based on a unit that participated in the operation. David Glantz' book Kharkov 1942: Anatomy of a Military Disaster is just about the only English language source on the operation, and I already had it. I hoped that the game would have information on orders of battle that would be useful to me.

As it turned out, it did have some order of battle (oob) information, but I don't know yet how accurate it is. It included a bibliography with some oob sources, but I haven't had the chance to check them out yet.

I have had the chance to give the game a try and will be working on a full review sometime in the near future. In the meantime, check out their sites and see what they have to offer.

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