Posts Tagged ‘ Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943

Recipe for a Great Spring Day

This spring is making me ridiculously happy, in part because it’s the first real spring I’ve experienced in many, many years. In northern Wisconsin, where I used to live, the ground is covered in snow and ice until April, until it abruptly melts into mud, then bakes in the heat throughout May. “Spring” is what you call the nice couple of weeks that precede the summer heat wave. The weather isn’t much better in northwest Indiana.

Boston winter may have sucked, but it’s making it up to me with days like yesterday and today: sunny, breezy, and cool. It was so nice yesterday that I decided to go work elsewhere, and took  a stroll down to Toscanini’s ice cream in Central Square. There is nothing like eating Caramel Delight ice cream for lunch on a weekday morning to make you feel like being a grown-up is everything you thought it would be when you were a kid.

At the risk of seeming like an unprofessional novice, I will say that yesterday also marked the first time I’ve had two pieces of paid work published on the same day. I could and perhaps should let the occasion pass unremarked, looking on with a cool detachment that says, “This happens to me every day.” But the fact is that it does not happen every day, and yesterday’s milestone was further proof that I am continuing to move the ball down the field. Such morale boosts are important, especially when there are nothing but deadlines as far the eye can see.

The first piece that went up was my GameShark review of Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943. No reader of this blog will be surprise to find that I gave it a positive review, but I reserved most of my judgments for the review itself. This game would have been in “A” territory easily with a little more polish and a less infuriating interface, but even with the user-unfriendliness that I’ve come to associate with eastern European PC games, it’s a really good wargame. A patch was just released that I haven’t had time to play with. Hopefully it addresses some of my complaints.

The other piece that went up is a feature on The Hunter and its moral code that I wrote for The Escapist. I’ll definitely have more to say about this game and this piece later this week, but for now I’ll just point you to the article and let you read it.

Now This Is More Like It

For the past couple weeks I’ve been playing Graviteam’s Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 for an upcoming review, and I spent today finishing up the copy and putting together some screenshots. However, there is one thing I find really impressive about this game that I couldn’t bring up in my review: the limited scope, and the price. Achtung Panzer is representative of almost everything that wargame publishers and developers should be doing.

I’ve written before about how wargame prices are too high, and how that’s a terrible thing for the hobby, so imagine my pleasure to fine a first-rate, brand-new wargame released at $20. Pre-orders got the game for $16 or $17. To offer a game of this quality, with such high production values, for less than half the cost of a typical wargame is both generous and brilliant.

It’s generous because, frankly, nobody ever expects to get this much wargame for so little money. The people most likely to buy Achtung Panzer would probably pay $50 for it without thinking twice, because that’s what that audience pays for a wargame that interests them. There is a possibility that Paradox have left some money on the table here.

But the cheap buy-in might entice non-wargamers to leave their comfort zone and give Achtung Panzer a shot, especially if the game gets good word of mouth. It’s an interesting experiment, and one that I hope pays off. Wargames should be bigger than they are.

The low-price ties in with another important element of Achtung Panzer: it’s not very big. There are only a half-dozen operations, which really means there are only three operations, and you can play them from the German or Soviet perspective. Neither side has a particularly expansive order of battle, and the maps are all roughly similar to one another.

That’s a wise decision, I think. Wargaming is too often afflicted by a sort of gigantism that puts too much strain on developers and scenario designers, and leaves gamers to sort through a lot of chaff. Think about the progression of the Close Combat series up to the third game. From Normandy to Market Garden… to the entire Eastern Front. One of these things is not like the other.

The Combat Mission games were similarly ambitious. The first game covered the Western Front from Normandy into Germany. The second game covered, once again, the entire Eastern Front. The third game covered the Mediterranean theater.

Then you have a game like The Operational Art of War, which explicitly set out to be the last operational level wargame you would ever need. For $50 or $60, you could enjoy, well, just about any and every major campaign from the Franco-Prussian War through Operation Iraqi Freedom. True, the design wasn’t actually that flexible and the game definitely handled certain types of warfare better than others, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that by the time TOAW3 came out, you had a game that could semi-plausibly claim to model the entirety of modern warfare.

Certain things seemed to get lost in this drive for more. For one thing, the game that models a hundred battles is not inherently superior to the game that models a single battle. Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! and Take Command: 2nd Manassas go into such exhaustive detail on these two engagement that you come to see how they are comprised of dozens of different, smaller engagements, any one of which could have gone a dozen different ways. Plus, focusing on a single battle or campaign lets a developer tailor the design to the subject matter, rather than attempting to create a system that can be adapted to all the myriad situations that arise over the course of a war or an era.

Achtung Panzer: Kharkov 1943 focuses on one type of combat at a single engagement, and its low price allows it to do that without apology. It’s not competing with games that let you re-fight the entire war. It has one type of warfare to show you. It wants to tell a smaller story that takes place within a much larger story. I don’t think that’s a weakness, but it’s discount price ensures that absolutely no one can look at this game and say, “That’s it?”