AirLand Battle lets the lions out

Title AirLand Battle lets the lions out
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Game reviews
When June 3, 2013

At first glance, Wargame: AirLand Battle might seem like a minor update to Wargame: European Escalation, the brilliantly Cold War RTS from the undersung RTS heroes at Eugen Systems who've been quietly innovating and polishing for over ten years (if you think they ar

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Here's the big question from me. I loved the idea of a slower more macro oriented strategy game. But found the first game to be incomprehensible both in terms of figuring out how to play, and how to make use of the whole deck building system as someone new to their design.

Have there been any concessions added to help people learn how to play?

I couldn't get into Wargame:EE, it just bounced off me and I was having a hard time learning how to learn the game, if that makes sense. in Wargame:ALB they've added a much more robust AI, which also allows you to add AI teammates. THAT is what helped me learn the game, I added an AI or two to my side in order to come to grips with the game.

Alright this looks like what will finally get me to upgrade my ancient PC. Any chance this thing has pausable real time? I just don't have that many APMs anymore...

APM is basically meaningless in this game.

Airland does nothing to fix EE's major problem, which is exactly what you mention: There's so many units (800+), with so many different statistics to keep track of, that there is no way to ever really play this game competently. I suppose you could spend hours upon hours looking up the differences between Tank A and Tank B (and C and D and E and so on), but for normal people who don't have time for that, Airland only makes things worse.

It's a shame, too, because the graphics and overall macro potential here is great. Tom unabashedly jizzes himself over anything that resembles a board game (even Virtua Tennis 4's campaign mode...), so I guess endless complexity for the sake of complexity doesn't bother him as much as it does the rest of humanity.

You can capture the air base by knocking out all CVs. Once you lose your last reinforcement point you can no longer fly planes until you get it back.

Great review, I totally support it. This game has me hooked.

I don't think that RTS games actually need to provide all three of those facets of gameplay any more than first person shooters need to provide singleplayer, coop, and competitive multiplayer. It's just that a lot of developers aren't brave enough to gamble on which mode their customers are actually looking to buy the game for.

In my case it's always been the singleplayer campaign, so despite praise for Ruse and the previous Wargame iteration's multiplayer, neither had much temptation for me. I'll definitely look at giving this one a shot sometime, though.

You make a perfectly fair point. It is incredibly hard to penetrate this game. It's hard to care for the difference between one russian tank and the next when it's presented like this. But if you happen to be a very specific type of geek, you get so, so much out of this game and I celebrate that something this specific can still exists in a world where everything is aimed at everyone.

I was reading the manual over the weekend, something I haven't done in a videogame in ages, and the following line caught my attention: "Spotted but unidentified enemy units appear as black “ghosts”. You can use your own personal knowledge to identify the units from their outlines."

When was the last time a game told you to use your knowledge and figure something out? The balls on these guys! I love them.

And to their credit, much of what made European Escalation unwieldy is solved here, since the national decks you get to play around in the campaign limit your available pool. As weird as it may sound, that limitation actually helps you focus instead of restrict you. Give it a try! I found it a lot easier to grasp than their previous game.

Great review!

I am also happy games like this exist, but I'm left wondering what happened to Eugen. I liked Ruse, which I thought was far more manageable and more clever. Ruse would never dream of pulling a stunt like the one you mention -- where the player has to use "experience" to figure out what a black outline represents. Ruse would tell you that an "Unidentified large vehicle" or something like that lurks in the fog of war. It would not simply say "Figure it out," though to be sure, players could still use their instinct (or Ruses) to guess what specific unit was in play.

I am disappointed that Eugen, instead of building on the accessibility and restraint of Ruse, seems to have added 1000x units and intentionally made core gameplay information opaque. Airland feels like a clique. Ruse felt like Chess.

Hey, let's split hairs! I can totally do that! :)

You don't capture the airbase, you cut off the air corridor. Recapturing an air corridor gives you access to planes, not getting back your last reinforcement point. You'll note that not all reinforcement points have air corridors.

Trying to figure out the unit type by its outline is an absolute non-issue. You can instead just look at the icon and attack it with the appropriate counter. You're basically getting a recon report telling you what type of unit has been spotted. I can't imagine anyone hardcore enough to actually study the outline of the marker to affect how he will react.

Actually, I feel the decks are a huge help in terms of helping new players drill down to a smaller set of units. Just pick a nationality and a battlegroup type when you first start playing. That'll reduce the amount of choice considerably without substantially affecting how you experience the basic interaction among units.

Wait, how do you identify air corridors? That is something I haven't yet picked up. Is this a RTFM moment for me?

Really in the end a tank is a tank is a tank. And it really doesn't take very long to figure out the basic scariness of the different lines. Additionally a tank that is worth more points is better, just across the board. You only need to fully grok the stats when you want to figure out why a given tank is better than another.

But really when it comes down to it when you see some tanks you want dead, you should know the kinds of units you have that kill tanks. Everything in this game is either a tank, something that kills tanks, or something that kills things that kill tanks (this last one is AA and AAA if you didn't guess).

Another thing to keep in mind, is that in this game the T-72B and the T-72CZ are totally different units, while being almost the same unit. There are a lot of almost copies out there from export models to the other PACT nations.

Air corridors are usually (always?) contained in the same zones that have regular reinforcement points. While zoomed out, squat arrows are highways that bring in ground troops, long thin arrows are air corridors.

Air corridors are definitely not always in the same territory as reinforcement arrows. It depends on the map, but you'll note that controlling certain territories on certain maps is a crucial part of controlling the flow of air power. The edges of Ragnarok, the big 10v10 map, between opposing sides are basically going to determine who has air superiority.

Tom, I have to know what you saw as names for multiplayer decks to make you so repulsed.

Is it so wrong for a game to tell you to rely on your expertise? It's not like a large percentage of the game is lost without that knowledge, it's just a small detail that only a team with a lot of confidence about their product, and their player base, can pull off

Just last night one of my recon choppers found an APC hidden in the woods with under two minutes on the clock. It looked odd, being there all alone away form the action, so I called in an airstrike sure that it was a command vehicle and it was. That gave me a come-from-behind victory and it felt great.

Shit, I wish more games pushed me to actually pay attention and care about what I am doing.

And again, you don't have to worry about the astonishing unit variety. Campaign decks are built with actual real units, all divided by role, and it makes the game so much easier to grasp.

Give it a try, it's a remarkable improvement over an already excellent game.

When you are at a close in zoom level, the zones disappear entirely.

When you are at a medium zoom level, the zones appear with their reinforcement point levels.

When you are at a far zoom level, zones which have reinforcement routs have their arrows appear.

Ground re-enforcement routes are wide short arrows, and air corridors are long thin arrows.

Complain all you want (justifiably) about their menu interface with their odd placement of buttons that move and change actions depending on what screen you are looking at. Eugen made an absolutely fantastic in-game interface. Literally everything you need to know is on the HUD while playing the tactical battles. And if you are unsure of the front armor on that T-80 coming your way, hit I and the full stat panel shows up.