by: Stefan Halter [ ]
One of the first war games I ever played on the PC as a youngster was Panzer General (PG), released in 1994 by Strategic Simulations Inc (SSI). From that moment on I was hooked to (reasonably) accurate WWII turned based strategy games and most notable the follow up, Allied General (1995) and Steel Panthers (SP; 1995) the latter taking you to a single tank/squad level. The times when these old DOS and Windows 95 games ran on my computer have long passed and I always thought the iPad was the ideal medium for turn based strategy. I finally have found a game worthy of being called a successor to these games: Battle Academy (BA).
Battle Academy takes you to the single vehicle and half squads (5 men infantry teams) during WWII and allows you to play severeal campaigns composed of different scenarios from the allied side.
About Turn Based Strategy Games
For those of you who’ve either grown up in the world of fast moving first person and real time strategy or who’ve never played computer games at all, here’s a brief overview of what turn based strategy is. All others can go on to the next paragraph.
Turn based strategy is a bit like chess. One player gets to move after the other. There are of course some major differences. For one, you don’t just move one piece in your turn, but you may move all your pieces. For another, the pieces are called units and don’t differ in how they move, but what their weapon is and therefore how much damage they can do, how far (i.e. fast) they move, how far they can see and how well they are protected. Then there is the terrain. This is usually divided in squares (as in BA) or hex (as in PG and SP) and has terrain, usually open field (the basic terrain), road (allows units to move faster (i.e. farther in one turn)), hills (allows better view), houses and woods (offer protection to Infantry and towed guns), as well as a number of other possible terrain types modifying the units movement, vision or protection in one way or the other.
Contrary to real time strategy, where the player has to micro manage large numbers of units at the same time and across a potentially large space, while reacting to the enemy action, turn based games give you have all the time in the world to move your units during your turn. This does not mean, however, that the opponent can’t defend itself during your turn. Any shots that you have left over in your turn can be used during the opponents turn. So, should your Sherman careen around a corner in front of a Tiger… Well, we all know what the most likely turn of events will be.
And therein lies another major difference to Chess: You can only see those enemy units that are within your units view, i.e. no units past a certain distance and no units behind an obstacle (fog of war).
That’s it for the basics, now on to BA.
The game opens up on the main menu. A few things are of note here. The graphics of the menus are all in comic style, similar to the one used in those Osprey comic style history books. Personally, I think it looks great, others may not like it. The main menu has a BBC logo on it. It says on the bottom that the game has been inspired by a BBC online game but that there is no connection to a current BBC program. The game can be played in English, French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish. Language is changed on the top right icon with a 50/50 British/US flag.
Finally, access to the game is via the “campaigns” icon. On the next screen you get to choose your campaign. First is a small Tutorial campaign that gets you through the basics of how to employ your units, how to move, how to shoot, how to employ artillery and air support, etc. Everything you need to know to start your first battle.
The campaigns included in the game are “Western Desert”, “Battle for Normandy” and “Battle of the Bulge”. Though it is not precondition to finish one campaign or even mission before starting the next, the recommendation is to play through them in the order listed, as difficulty increases. Also included are three special missions (two allied, one axis) where the opposing forces are generated on a random basis. Further campaigns can be bought as updates: “Blitzkrieg France”, “Market Garden”, “ Operation Sealion” and “Operation Husky”.
There is an option for multi player mode, this works via a registration on Slitherine’s website and then each player can take his time for his turn and send it to his opponent, much like chess. I have not tested the multi player mode (yet). Unfortunately there is no possibility (or I haven’t found it) to play against an opponent on the same device (hotseat).
After choosing your campaign and battle, you often get to chose some units in addition to core units already chosen for you. Then you get to the playing field. This is divided in squares, much like a chess board. It can be zoomed and turned continuously. Units and map items are 3D models with fairly good details. The default view is from slightly above (45°?). This can be changed to 90° for those who prefer the old SP-feel. This is done via the additional commands in the top right corner.
Sometimes, before starting the actual mission, you get to place your units (deploy mode), especially in defensive missions. When done, you click on the flag to finish your turn.
The goals of each mission are given in advance and usually include taking certain points on the map that are marked with the opponent’s flag. Additional but not mandatory goals may include destroying a certain number of enemy units or all of a certain type of the enemy’s units.
Clicking on a unit activates it. When you click on the square you would like the unit to do something with, a small menu of icons pops up. The possible commands are “move fast”, “hunt” (slow but careful movement that allows you to keep aim at a target or often times see the enemy before he sees you), “load”/”deploy” (for loading and unloading infantry and artillery pieces from trucks, halftracks and bren carriers), “fire” (if there is an enemy unit), “suppressing fire” (if you think there may be an enemy unit in the square), “indirect fire“ (for artillery only).
The game play gets second nature quick and you go from turn to turn rather quickly. Once you’ve moved all your units (though you don’t have to move them all), you end your turn and the opponent’s turn begins. You do not see these movements unless they are within the view of one of your units. The game allows you to save at any time, so the more cautious player will want to save after every enemy move to make sure the progress isn’t lost when the next tiger strikes.
Another element of BA is morale and experience. If a unit is hit (tank) or takes losses (infantry), morale declines and if it drops below a certain amount, the unit is suppressed and retreats – or worst case surrenders. On the other hand, when a unit destroys an enemy unit, it gains experience. There are three levels of experience. Experienced units are harder to suppress and quicker to respond. Unfortunately, the experienced units can not be taken to the next mission, as in PG, and therefore in each mission you start with fresh units.
To give you a feel for the game, I’ll just describe two episodes of my play.
The first was in North Africa. The mission was to defend against an enemy attack. I had at my disposal mostly a few 2pdr anti tank guns, Infantry and Artillery. When the enemy attacked, I ordered my artillery to fire on the most likely avenues of approach. Then one of the 2pdr that I had placed on a hill in the middle of the front opened fire on the German lead elements. With the support of the Infantry on the flanks, I managed to hold that hill over several turns, destroying several Pz III and halftracks before finally being overwhelmed. Like in the movies, at that moment the “cavalry” arrived in the form of a few Stuarts and Crusaders and I managed to turn the tide and retake the hill.
The second was in Normandy. I was on the attack in Operation Cobra. I had taken the first line of defense in two towns with heavy infantry fighting and was advancing on a wide front toward a hill. My Shermans an M18s moved along the hedgerows and I always tried to have them around a corner of a hedge row so that any enemy attack would run right in front of their guns. All of a sudden, I was confonted with four tigers. The first one was destroyed with a close 76mm round from the side, thus blocking the way. In my next turn, I managed to “hunt” around the corner with two M18 and two Shermans. Losing one M18 I managed to destroy the remaining three tigers at close range with shots to the side and rear.
Historical Background and Accuracy
The game does not strive to be 100% accurate. The missions are based on actual events but are not exact representations. For example, there is a mission based on the events of Villers Bocage, but it would be impossible to put as many British tanks on the map as there actually were in Villers Bocage. In fact you get a quite attractive mission where your units are spread along a road in several towns and it is your mission to reinforce them.
The units are reasonably accurate. The game does not go into the details of making a difference between the marks of a tank, and therefore a Churchill is a Churchill, whether in North Africa or Normandy, it is still armed with a 75mm gun.
I really enjoyed this game. It is easy to get into, reasonably accurate and simply feels right. It was hard to stop a mission, once started and I think that’s a great thing in a game. It may not be as action packed as Call of Duty or World of Tanks, but it is definitely a great game for anyone who wants to take it a bit more relaxed and anyone who enjoys strategy board games.
The game is available on PC, MAC and iPad. I downloaded mine from the app store for 10$ at a discount usual price is 20$.
For those who want to try it out, there is a free trial version available for iPad, so what can you lose?