Some publishers sure know how to milk the cash cow. First they release a game that gathers a loyal following. Then they re-release the game in many variations, with engine tweaks, different backgrounds, and in all possible combinations with extra disks or bundled with others of the series so that you get lost, wondering which one you need to buy to complete the set.
No, this is not EA I am talking about but Talonsoft and their Campaign Series. Mind you, this is about the only bad thing I can say about those games.
The Campaign Series that began with East Front is a series of wargames about tactical land combat. So far it has been depicting the various theaters of World War 2 (North Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, and the Pacific). A new title called Divided Ground has recently been released which focuses on the wars in the Middle East between 1948 and 1973.
As East Front, West Front, and Rising Sun are so similar, they are best reviewed as a whole.
At first glance, the Campaign Series looks similar to Steel Panthers, SSI's classic game. However, there are some differences. The units represented are squad or platoon level. A German tank platoon normally consists of 6 tanks, a Russian of 3, etc. Therefore you command at a slightly higher level than in Steel Panthers. The handling is rather easy to learn: select your unit(s) to move and right click where you want them to move to. Your firing is also resolved during your movement. Enemy units that have enough action points left, may interrupt for opportunity fire, though. Artillery is plotted with an extra pop-up window. There are a few useful helpers in the interface: you can limit your movement such that you have enough points left for one shot; you can highlight all units of one formation; you can, of course, zoom in and out and so on. The graphics are nice in 3D mode, you really get a sandbox feel when moving your units around. It doesn't feature the glamour and glitz of lighter tactical games like Sudden Strike, but it is good to look at nevertheless. Some units (esp. the Russians on brown ground) are hard to spot, but you can highlight all units, so that you don't overlook that anti tank gun in the woods.
While the game is really easy to play, what goes on beneath the veneer is very complex. Almost any unit of World War 2 is present in the games with the appropriate stats. The stats are detailed: armor, fire rate (determining the action points needed for firing), hit probability on hard (armored) and soft (infantry) targets at different distances, etc. -- it's all there. All the details have to enter your battle plan: where do I place the unit HQs so that they get supplied, but the HQ cannot be taken out? Should my commander take the risk of personally commanding the storming of a heavily defended position? Where will the units that I want to hit with my artillery be by the time the support arrives? Shall I try to scout the enemy positions with a recon unit? What if it gets destroyed before it spots anything? How do I move my troop carriers as close as possible to the enemy without offering a target as big as a barn? How can I use the terrain to my advantage?
It's those decisions that make the difference between a successful battle and a massacre of your own troops when rushing head on into blaring guns and rifles. And it's also those decisions that really give you the impression you are in the middle of the battle, taking care of your units. All the while, the difficulty can be adjusted for both hardcore grognards and the occasional player who just wants to remind themselves what gunsmoke smells like.
The games ship with a huge number of scenarios, ranging from the simple (battalion size) to the bedlam of whole corps battling it out. The obligatory D-Day and Stalingrad scenarios are there, but they recreate the despair on both sides of the field when your units get a bloody nose over and over again. My favorite remains the campaigns, though. There are the standard linked campaigns, of course, that follow a certain unit's battles, based on historic scenarios. WF and EF also feature dynamic campaigns where you can live through the whole war with your unit. Your men gain experience, you have to replace lost units, or replace old equipment with shiny new weapons. This, of course, makes you take even better care of your units and bond with them. You may even receive an offer to take command of a larger unit. The problem with the random campaigns however (and here it doesn't differ much from Steel Panthers) is that the battles feel a bit generic after a while.
Overall, Talonsoft has brought to the wargaming world a series of great games that are able to capture the broad scope of the war like few others. Of course, they can never be as accurate as games focusing on a single battle, but they excel at giving you the feeling of being in a field headquarters leading your troops to victory. Must-haves, without a doubt. Best of all, they are being sold together in a packaged called Europe in Flames, which is retailing for $20 or less from most mail-order stores. Reviewed by: Sytass