Wargame: European Escalation snuck up on me like a Delta Squad stealthing around the side of the map in a pair of Chinooks. The dull, heavy register of the rotors sounded a rhythmic beat that went utterly unnoticed by the net of Luchs Recon Vehicles that I’d spread like an ill-repaired net across my game-spotting flanks. Which is to say that I didn’t hear about it until a good month after it was released, both because my friends who play strategy games are useless, and no one seemed to have covered it. But once it landed that surgical strike on my wide-open brain, it was difficult to understand why there weren't people on nearby hilltops, shouting about how great it was. It looks beautiful, has unique, interesting battle mechanics, and a meta-game of deck building that makes each encounter different, thanks to the units that people bring to the game.
It's time to talk about those encounters, and you shake you by the lapels. This is why Wargame is worthy of your attention.
Now that the game has been updated with Comp Stomp, Siege mode, and seven new maps to expand the already reasonable roster of lovely terrain to blow up and litter with tank carcasses. So I decided to pull a few friends together, put them on either side of a bitter feud, and see if I can’t show you, through the medium of violence and war, exactly why Wargame is such a joy to play.
We’re playing on Summer Night, one of the new maps that’s a little on the smaller side, and while it defaults to a 1v1, it worked perfectly well with a 2v2. From the sky, it looks a little something like this:
Reds are dirty communist PACT, and Blue are lovely, capitalist NATO forces. That’s the kind of ideology at play here, for all you exposition fans. Anyway, the map is littered with control zones, which would be the odd grey shapes with silly military names like ‘Echo’ and ‘Delta’. The numbers are how much they’re worth to you, in deployment points. Those let you bring in more troops faster, but don’t actually get you any closer to victory. And those reinforcement arrows, thrusting deep into the control zones, let you bring in troops to those zones directly. I have lovely dreams about those long, thrusting arrows, framed by the beautiful curves of rolling hills, and lewd swell of turgid rivers... Ahem.
Victory is achieved by blowing up and generally killing the enemy. We went to 4000 points, although the upper limit of Wargame is 6000. Each team starts with that many points on the battlefield, divvied up between the players. We did a 2v2, so that’s 2000 points each. To win, we have to destroy 4000 points worth of the opponents stuff. It’s pretty simple, really. But what it means for the game is that you begin to worry more about staying alive than simply killing stuff. You can't just throw in resources and hope for the best, because if you lose them, you are going down. What's even more important to the mindset of playing this game is that valuable units - such as good command units - must be kept alive at all costs, because their points value is huge. It's something that bypasses some beginners, but is critical to making sensible tactical decisions as you play.
The generals in this bitter conflict are as follows: On the PACT side we have myself and Stalin’s Ghost (perhaps appropriately), otherwise known as Greg, a founding member of Hero Squad and jaded Planetside vet. And on the NATO side we have Alethron, or Ben, one time Blood Bowl Divisions of Death Grand Champion, and his stalwart companion Heliosicle, or Louis, who’s played some Men of War and thinks it’s actually jolly good.
There’s a very good reason that I want to play PACT, by the way.This is that very good reason:
That is a TDS-1 Buritano, and it’s hell’s wrath strapped to the back of a truck. A truly ridiculous salvo of rockets that can destroy even the most powerful of tanks if they’re bunched in the firing solution.
The idea is that we place those horrible trucks into the trees near where we think the fight is going to go down, and once the enemy is in place, we unleash that horrendous firey death on the unsuspecting NATO battle tanks.
And that fight is probably going to take place on Echo. So I’m sending my main force there, while I send a few helicopters full of Vysadkari and Spetznaz infantry down the right flank to hide in the trees at Delta, in the hope that, when they inevitably take it, they can intercept and generally annoy and frustrate any troops they bring in to reinforce there.
So while I’m doing that, Greg shores up the right flank at Golf and Hotel and we just hope that they don’t have a similar idea.
Turns out they had a similar idea.
The first problem is that Heliosicle sends a full fleet of gunships and troop helicopters of his own down to Delta, and my guys get completely decimated, with chopper crashes and desperate flight into the trees only to get cut down by Delta Force making the whole thing a sorry show. A brave six Vysadkari survive, though, so at least there’s that. Not that six guys is ever going to do much.
And, at this point, this is how things are looking. Which is like a grim weather forecast:
The second problem, you see, is on the left flank, where things aren't holding up as intended. I’ve made it to Echo at a good speed, with my tanks thundering down the roads, churning up tarmac, but just as I arrive I realise that, well, Echo has bugger all for cover. I need trees and hills to hide my tanks in, and all I’ve got are wide-open fields. It could be fatal to be out in the open like this.
And then Alethron’s tanks show up, and his tanks are better than my tanks.
I’ve got a force full of T-55s (15 points), T-64s (30 points) and a few T-72s (45 points), whereas he’s full of MBT-70s (75 points), Abrams (110 points) and more than a little artillery support. While I can get a ratio where I kill one of his tanks for every three he kills of mine and still get more points than him, I just don’t have the numbers or the support to do that kind of damage.
So we unleash the Buritano from some nearby trees, in a hope that it might turn the course of the fight. It doesn’t quite manage it, but it does make Alethron withdraw, and I’m able to pull my forces back to the safety of a nearby wood, to regroup and resupply - rushing in trucks to get the tanks back online. It’s at this point I do a tally and realise that one of the NATO artillery shells managed to blow up my Command Unit, ruining my chances of controlling Delta (you need one to hold a point) and netting them 200 points.
Command Units are Expensive. Losing them is a major problem.
With the failure of my little foray into Delta, NATO forces secure it without any opposition, while I’m forced to retreat further back from Echo once they figure out which wood I’m hiding in and start shelling it with artillery. I’m on the other side of the river now, with just a single bridge to make it across.
At this point they have 2179 points, to our 1088. Which, as you might assume, isn’t exactly promising.
With Echo temporarily theirs, and a proper forward operating base in Delta, they start to gather their forces to mount an assault on Hotel. Luckily Greg has a bunch of recon units littering the countryside, and - thanks to their huge spotting range - they give my Malka artillery something to shoot at. It’s pretty hilarious watching tanks start to falter and try to run away once a few hundred pounds of explosives fall on their heads. It's working as I'd hoped!
This is one of my favourite things that Wargame does, and it does it so well. It’s not out and out action all the time, but instead a series of skirmishes that have very valid options presented that preserve troops and don’t lead to the complete destruction of one side or the other. Retreating is always an option, because these control points aren’t the be all and end all, as they are in so many other RTS games. It’s better to sacrifice a position than a bunch of troops. Not to mention the sheer size of the maps means that there’s a lot of room to maneuver in. Making a huge detour to attack from a flank is almost always a possibility, especially when you know that enemy spotters and recon are generally only going to be able to see you in the places where they'll expect you to be. This is an RTS with tanks in, that also has stealth going on.
And yes, we’re in a lull, here, where both sides have been bloodied and forced to regroup. The next moves will be crucial. While they have got an offensive to press, they also haven’t encountered the body of Greg’s forces, and I get the impression they know that. That's why they won't make any sudden moves, for fear of being caught out. But with the gathering front headed to Hotel, that presents Greg with the opportunity to move in on Delta.
While I lick my wounds on the left, Greg makes plays his hand, pushing forward with a mix of troop transports, tanks and the odd Havoc helicopter, just as my artillery finishes laying down some explosive psychological warfare on the NATO tanks. They’re retreating, and their retreat is met with the full force of our attacking units.
Retreat is a disaster for the NATO forces, with almost all of that force destroyed. It's a gaping hole in their lines, leaving Greg the opening to push on an almost undefended Delta. Unfortunately they manage to sneak their Saracen Command Unit out and across to Echo, depriving us of a vital 200 points. A critical 200 points. It could be the move that decides the game.
Scores: They have 3475, we have 3028.
With the game this close, losing even a few helicopters and a tank could throw the game for us. Likewise, if we can grab a Command unit we’ll close the gap between us, and it’ll be everything to play for. This means that everyone starts acting as if they’re leading troops while babysitting a six week old, all orders hushed, and every action riddled with anxiety.
So we do the only logical thing: we fire the Buritano in the vague direction of where we think the Command Unit at Delta is. Brilliant Tactical Minds of the 21st Century.
It doesn’t work. We don't hit anything at all. But they probably know where our artillery is.
With things as they stand, we’ve got rivers on every line. That means that land assaults are pretty much out, if only because bottle necking your troops like that is going to lead to a slaughter, and a free victory for the other side. Similarly, it’s at that stage of the game where everyone has more than enough AA to deal with any helicopter assaults. Which doesn’t necessarily stop the NATO guys trying.
They send around a pair of Chinooks, presumably laden with Delta Force commandos, but Greg has a pair of Havoc helicopters in the region, forcing them to retreat back the way they came. It’s a constant game of chicken, trying to get one side or the other to commit to an assault, and allow the defenders to cut them down. That seems to be the only way this was going to end.
At this point we’ve almost closed the gap on the victory, getting within only 200 points of the final goal, with them at less than 50. That means that if we can somehow get a Command Unit, we win. But if they get almost any unit, they win.
Greg gathers some troop transports, sends them down the right flank in the hope that they haven’t defended their home base, because that’s sure to have a bunch of juicy artillery and more than enough Command Units (1) to win us the game.
Turns out, however, they just called in a bunch of Leopard Tanks as reinforcements. They're rolling through the fields, guns hot. Caught out in the open, Gregs troops are cut down before they can even hit anything with their rocket launchers. The point ticker ticks over 4000 points, and NATO wins the game.
NATO: 4052 PACT: 3601
And that is how it went down.
Wargame: European Escalation is out now.