He Rues The Day: Wargame

It's basically a game about what happens when tanks try to go on holiday.
Roving reporter Dan Griliopoulos has left Alec in Cologne and is heading deeper into Europe, writing up the best of Gamescom as he goes.

We’re driving through the Black Forest when my thoughts turn to Wargame: European Escalation. Germany’s Schwarz Wald might be famous around the world solely as the origin of an outrageously opulent cherry cake – the schwarzwaldkirschetorte – but it’s also at the heart of the country that’s borne the brunt of European warfare for twenty centuries. That’s notable for us, as it’s also the central area that the two factions of the Cold War would likely have fought through and over if the war had turned hot, as the overwhelming Russian conventional forces pushed towards France. Wargame, the new title from the creators of RUSE, explores this area and the war that never happened, but which the world braced itself against for forty years.

Alexis Le Dressay, founder and creative director of Eugen Systems, took me through the game back in Cologne. “The idea about this game is that, it takes place during the decade 1975 to 1985, during the Cold War. During that period, thankfully, nothing happened, but the two blocs were arming themselves with tons of tanks, helicopters and assault infantry, ready to fight to spread into the middle of Europe, especially Germany.” So, taking this premise, Wargame’s idea is to create alternative histories. “For example, in 1983, Ronald Reagan was shot by a madman, but was not killed. Imagine what would have happened if that bullet had hit the heart; the CIA would have blamed the KGB and… So all the different campaigns are set in an alternate reality, where the two blocs will hit each other with conventional weapons, not super-weapons.”

On first sight, Wargame is quite obviously a form of the superb R.U.S.E. engine, but heavily improved; due to improvements in the tech, they’ve been able to build this game on a realistic scale, meaning that vehicles actually fit in the landscape correctly. “As you know with Ruse, we had the technology to display a really-big zoom” says Alexis, “but with Wargame we can go much, much closer and have a 1-1 scale world.” This also has consequences for how vehicles interact in the world, and how you control the units. “If I select the tank, I can follow the unit to see the different elevation” Alexis explains.

For example, now that the game is 1:1, the team can use canonical distances. This means things like weapon range, fuel capacity and vehicle speed can reflect their real-world equivalents. This, in turn, means, that they can just pull all the data about vehicles in easily, as much of it is now public domain, meaning this game has a huge range of real world vehicles, accurately represented, all with their individual foibles and problems.

It also affects how the vehicles interact with the world; they can use cover effectively, but also impact the environment accurately. Comparing the gentle trails infantry leave in long grass, with the wheeled impression of a recon vehicle and the flattened, crushed earth of a M1 Abrams tank’s passage raises the possibility that players will be able to track each other’s movements and estimate forces using the landscape alone.

Notably, vehicles also use fuel in different ways depending on the terrain they’re passing over. Grassland is fairly good going, but not as good as keeping to tarmac roads. Travelling through dense woodland is extremely-fuel intensive, and some vehicles simply can’t do it; others, like tanks, can but make slow progress and knock down trees as they go, but have practically no visibility. (We also saw a tank de-track when pushing through a hedgerow, indicating there’s some sort of dynamic breakdown system from rough ground.”

Cities meanwhile are also completely to scale and units can hide inside any building; “we tried to create the best visual battlefield…” says Le Dressay “We have a much more complex and rich vision system than in R.U.S.E.” The buildings are, of course, completely destroyable, as Alexis demonstrates by unleashing a huge artillery strike on some infantry ensconced near a wood; unluckily for him, the inaccuracy of the strike means not a single building is actually hit..

Finally, as they’ve brought so many of the other simulation elements in, they’ve also introduced the ability and necessity to manage your ammo on each vehicle; you don’t want your T72 using its main cannon, with its extremely limited ammo, against infantry if there are Abrams tanks prowling around. “For example” says Alexis, “my Abrams tank has stabilisation system, optical system, different kind of armour on the front, back, top, specific engine, specific track that’s more reliable when you pass through streams… a lot of parameters. It’s like you are playing an RPG.”

Each vehicle also has experience and is named, for ease of identification, as well as a stress status; if they get too stressed, they’ll attempt to flee or at least retreat. “R.U.S.E. was more boardgamey; this is like if you are building an Airfix model, you want it to have and use all the characteristics of the real thing, but very simple to play with.” Is this more for hardcore gamers then? “We want the game to be really easy to play with, for all the units.”

Le Dressay demonstrates on an unfortunate enemy T72 that a recon unit has spotted. The Abrams has to move through a hedgerow to get a clean line of sight to the T72, but as soon as it spots it, it stops moving and fires, stunning the enemy tank with a direct hit; “it is like, one of the crewmen has been killed”, says Alexis. “Even if I can’t penetrate the armour, I can distress them a lot, making them retreat and destroy them finally.” The experience of the Abrams crew speeds up the reloading process (as well as aiming and repairing) and it gets its second shot off whilst the T72 is attempting to turn and retreat, destroying it. We could have forced the Abrams to shoot earlier, without sighting the tank, but it would have been very inaccurate. Also, if we’d left a stunned or malfunctioning tank alone, the crew would have themselves taken the time to repair the problem, be it a loose track, fuel leak, or general malfunction.

Alexis goes on to demonstrate helicopters, with guided and unguided missiles (which give you percentage chances of hitting) meeting a bunch of anti-air units (flak vehicles and surface-to-air missile units), with predictably gruesome results on both sides. There are more than 320 units in the game; playing on the NATO side, for example, you can deploy German, US, British, and French troops. On the Communist side, will be Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Czechoslovakian…

In the multiplayer or skirmish scenarios, you pick up to 25 units from the 320 available, with up to 5 from each category, and use them to compose the army you’re taking into the field; once that’s done, much like Ground Control or End of Nations, you have a limited number of points to buy units or upgrade them to veterancy. More points are garnered by capturing and holding different areas of the map. Key facilities such as power stations give more points and reinforcements can be brought in at certain points on the map’s edge. “In Ruse we had six or seven armies; here in Wargame it’s infinite, as you build up your own army. Less is made using base-building or economy, but more here is the terrain and cover.”

After RUSE’s fascinating board-game style mechanics, it’s a little odd to see the developers move back towards something more directly simulation-oriented, towards the space occupied mainly by Men of War. Yet, where RUSE’s innovation was in the board game elements, Wargame’s fiction is in its world-view. We’re still glad that the Cold War never turned hot – that these great, ancient trees weren’t run down by tank tracks and that Germany didn’t turn back into the warzone for most of European history – but we’re intrigued to see where Eugen take us on their alternate history tour. An open beta will be available in September.


  1. onodera says:

    I’d love to see a wargame with realistic distances. Maybe they’ll even manage to fit howitzers in.

  2. Ondrej says:

    Just look at the third screenshot. Look at it! Nearly photograph-quality there.

  3. Vexing Vision says:

    It’s a shame they’re losing the awesome boardgamey feel of RUSE, but one can only hope this will reactivate interest.

    Anyway, it all sounds rather amazing!

  4. CalleX says:

    Sounds very interesting. I didnt play RUSE simply because of the “arcadey” approach.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Seconded – it fell into the same category as TF2 to me: looked lots of fun, but just not visually engaging. This on the other hand is revving my engine.

  5. Wilson says:

    Sounds interesting, but could be too much micromanagement. I don’t want to have to individually manage my tanks not to waste shells when enemy tanks may be around. Not unless the scale is very different to that of RUSE. I think the individual unit AI may make or break this game for me. If it’s too dumb, I’m not going to sit around and nanny my units to get a half-decent performance out of them.

    Hopefully it’ll be good though :)

  6. Sian says:

    Oooh, finally I can nitpick about language! It’s called Schwarzwald and Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, respectively. But you got it mostly right.

    Aaaah, good, “being a prick” is out of the way for today. ;)

  7. Chris says:

    For cake fans I should point out that Schwarzwaldkirschtorte is a flan with sour cherrys served with whipped cream.

    Black Forest Gateaux on the other hand is a cake that was invented in England, and has nothing to do with the Schwarzwald.

    • sprocketeer says:

      Wikipedia seems to disagree with you:

      “Black Forest gateau and Black Forest cake are the English names for the German dessert Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte”

      Also, I’ve never seen a Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte with a shortcrust base, if that’s what you meant by flan.

      Where’s your info from?

    • Vexing Vision says:

      Also, you miss the most important ingredient: Kirschgeist.

      If you don’t get drunk from a piece of cake, it’s not a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    I now have a burning passion to make an Angry Birds variant called Angry Houses.

  9. Nova says:

    I didn’t expect them to go for more complexity after RUSE.
    Sounds very interesting.

  10. Gaytard Fondue says:

    Too bad they won’t simulate vehicle crews. Could somebody just make a new Close Combat please?

    • rasputinsownbear says:

      >simulate vehicle crews

      Theatre of War anyone?
      Also, I find it strange that TOW gets so little attention on RPS. Here in Russia it is as big as Men of War, if not bigger.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      In the West, Men of War (though I love it) is still pretty obscure, so…

    • Ranger33 says:

      Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy is the game you are looking for.

  11. Kong says:

    Can I name a soldier after myself? I was in the service in those days, being born and raised in the “Fulda Gap”.
    Seems I need to buy this game.
    I am really looking forward to bomb the city of Fulda.

  12. scorcher24 says:

    2 things:
    Schwarzwald <- 1 Word
    Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte <- 2 Words
    Sorry for beeing pendantic, but as a German…. you know :P.

    • luckystriker says:

      1 thing:
      Being not beeing
      Sorry for being pendantic, but as a Englishman…. you know :P.

  13. DK says:

    If they’re doing this much detail they’ll have to dial down the number of units dramatically from RUSE – which clashes with their increase in map scale.

    Not convinced this is actually going to work.

  14. mkflin says:

    top game that i like to playing them very much,welcome to link to goo.gl ,there have more nice top games ,why not visit?

  15. roethle says:

    When I saw the trailer for this i wasn’t sure but now I’m super excited. Ive about exhausted all of the content from the men of war series.

  16. destroy.all.monsters says:

    I didn’t get into RUSE all that much but _loved_ Act of War. Never understood why it never got the attention it deserved. JTF was another rts set in the present or near future that didn’t get much love (terrible voice acting but really fun and difficult).

    Hope to hear more about this soon. Eugen is saying there’s going to be no drm!

    One thing I always think about in these games is how there are never any civilians around – or how that never seems to be part of the strategy. I think that we all tend to like these what if scenarios but if these things had happened in reality they would have been tremendously tragic.

    It makes me wonder that since war is so sanitized from a media (and gaming) perspective that it doesn’t make it much easier to continue to spend untold amounts of money spreading pain and grief across the globe.

  17. Tac Error says:

    I’ve been told that the developers made this game as a tribute to old wargames like Close Combat and Steel Panthers. Can’t wait!

  18. Vinraith says:

    So will this have linear, story based campaigns or something with some actual strategy and consequence?

    • Tac Error says:

      As for the campaign, I caught this bit from another preview:

      “In the campaign, you’ll have maps divided into regions and something there will be a central location that acts as a victory condition.”