Sunday, June 30, 2013

Command Ops: Battles for Greece - Review

Published by Slitherine/Matrix Games
Boxed Edition: U$39.99 (includes immediate download)
Download Edition: U$29.99
This is an expansion pack that requires ownership of Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge.

The war was young and the Germans were seemingly unstoppable. The inopportune and unsuccessful offensive of Il Duce Benito Mussolini against Greece has prompted a British intervention. From a reluctant and lukewarm response first, the British ended up deploying some 60,000 troops on Greek soil. The "W Force" (6th Australian Division, the New Zealand 2nd Division and the British 1st Armoured Brigade) proved too small to stop the Axis forces, despite a mountainous terrain that favored the defender. The German Twelfth Army advanced through Greece not without difficulty, but in less than a month from the H-hour the entire country was under the Axis boot. One gets the impression that from the grand tactical point of view, maybe this campaign was just a delaying action of gigantic proportions for the Allies. For the Axis, in particular the Germans, this operation must have looked like a déjà vu on steroids that made the recent crossing of the Ardennes look like a cake walk.

In a typical Command Ops scenario, the player is placed in command of a brigade, a division, or a corps. The battlefield is displayed as a 2D map which is zoom able to various levels. The troops, which are represented as counters (the typical smallest unit is a company), move in continuous time through the seamless map. The player can issue orders to any company individually, or can choose to issue orders to battalion, regiment, division or corps headquarter units. In the latter case, the headquarters units will automatically execute the order, moving all the subordinates to their destination without any player intervention. When units from opposite sides are within weapons' range, they fire at each other by themselves (although there is a fire command order that the player can use, if he finds it necessary).

The Thermopylae position. This devilish scenario lasts days of simulated time. With all the mobility restrictions for the Germans, things go usually very well at the beginning for the Allied player. Once the AI Germans figure out the player's main defensive positions and deploy artillery,  the grinding of teeth and cold sweat starts.
Command Ops' virtual war includes more than just fire and movement. If the player chooses so, the issuing of orders and their execution can be modeled to take the efficiency of the headquarter units' staffers into account. This means that issuing an order will take some time to get executed (orders' delays). It also means that the headquarters units can reach a threshold of pending orders/tasks after which their execution rate goes down dramatically. In addition to this, the Command Ops engine tracks down every shell and gallon of fuel being used with a fully automated supply inventory, requisition and delivery system. Yes! A supply system that runs itself, is detailed, realistic and doesn't require a masters degree in logistics to understand.

It's hard to find the true and absolute focal point of the Command Ops game engine. I guess it is as hard to find a focal point for real life grand tactical combat when it is observed as a whole. Command Ops scenarios will deliver something for each of the imaginable armchair general types out there. The divider for the military cartographer, the tables of organization and equipment for the order of battle purist, the grease pen lines in the map for the tactician, the graphing paper for the bean counter, the communications log for the historian. For me, it's all about the nuances of tactical decision making. When and where to commit my tank regiment? The front line keeps moving, will my attack find the enemy? What's the most crucial piece of terrain I should control until my reinforcements show up? How long is it going to take to bring reinforcements to the front line?

The Italian Army's (blue counters) through the Pindus Mountains. Not a single damn road in this terrain. 
The fluid, lifelike war depicted in Command Ops is accessed through one of the best interfaces to ever grace a war simulation. The menus, buttons, icons and tabs of the interface are easy to understand and use. There is no user operation (i.e. issuing an order or retrieving some data) that would require more than 3 or 4 clicks on the interface. In addition to this, the physical strain of moving every single counter in the map is absent if the player lets himself to issue orders to headquarters instead of micromanaging every single company or tank platoon.

This is one of those rare war game engines where the player can truly focus on commanding his force. And it is good not to be pushing around every single unit around the map, because commanding a force is difficult. Not only the player's orders will be delayed, but also subordinate units will take the initiative if something not anticipated happens. Command Ops plays like a faithful simulation not only of warfare but also of command.

The 1st British Armoured Brigade (brown and green counters) gets a clean opportunity to derail the 11th Schützen Regiment's tight timetable.
Battles for Greece is an expansion pack for Command Ops Battles from the Bulge. It includes 19 historical scenarios and what ifs. These 19 scenarios were part of the old Airborne Assault Conquest of the Aegean. Be advised that not all the original scenarios of Conquest of the Aegean are included in the Battles for Greece expansion pack. The missing scenarios will come later as a separate offering. The historical scenarios cover a good portion of the major engagements during Operation Marita. The scenarios are well balanced and offer interesting tactical choices for both sides. The player commanding the Allies will have to make a very clever use of the terrain. In some scenarios, his infantry-heavy command will enjoy the mobility through the extremely rough terrain. The Allied infantry's low speed can become a liability, though, if the Germans manage to squeeze their motorized and armored units through mountains and passes with a very poor road network. The scenarios are very cleverly edited to keep the Allied player on his toes with the threat of being cut off from the rear. There are a couple of scenarios matching the Italian and Greek armies which are infantry-only. These two are the best grand tactical mountain warfare scenarios I ever played (game play brought some thoughts about the recent wars in Afghanistan).

A German motorcycle battalion (grey counters) has just secured two crucial crossings for the following troops.  Under intense shelling from the Allies on the top of the ridge, the "Castle ridge" poses a serious challenge.
Is it worth getting Battles for Greece if you never owned or played Conquest of the Aegean? The answer to that is yes. The setting is tactically interesting and challenging. The scenarios are high quality and there is plenty of war gaming value in this module.

Is it worth getting Battles for Greece if you already owned or played Conquest of the Aegean? Again, yes. Besides of an special U$ 10.00 discount, you get to play the scenarios with the new Command Ops engine. Much have changed since Conquest of the Aegean. You may be aware of the refinements to the interface and the availability of new options and SOPs for the execution of orders. But actually what was most noticeable for me is how far the artificial intelligence has got by now. In my side by side comparison, the AI in Battles for Greece looked more aggressive, re-assessed its original plans more sensibly and gave pure hell with its indirect fire allocation. Veterans from Conquest of the Aegean will certainly enjoy the old battlefield with the newer version of virtual troops.

This is a fictional scenario in which an Allied armored brigade (brown counters) must clear the highway and the heights dominating it. The Allies are moving north and have just made contact with German dismounted troops.
Score: A. Panther Games turned my war gaming world upside down when they released their first modern game Airborne Assault Red Devils Over Arnhem. No hexes, no turns, a fully dynamic and hierarchical command and control system … More than ten years later, Panther Games' Command Ops war game engine shares just the looks and the core features of its Airborne Assault predecessors. Improvements, tweaks and new features make the Command Ops engine to stand as an extraordinary and comprehensive simulation of warfare and tactical decision-making. Battles for Greece will challenge your tactical leadership abilities like no other game out there.  


Anonymous said...

Great review as always. I too have always enjoyed Panther's wargames. It's so cool to watch the icons take shots at each other in real time. Nice touch.


Marco said...

I saw this and it makes me more willing to buy the Command Ops to go through the series. I just have the old Agean Conquest and its great including some scenarios made by fans. Do you know some kind of summer event on Matrix? Last year there was one by the D-day, that I miss, but this year it was not made it again. The +100 bucks to buy the Bulge and Greece games are kind of a high wall to me.

Chris said...

Great review JC. I have Bulge but have not played it enough clearly. I was thinking about cracking open Decisive Campaigns Case Blue again but I may head to the Aegean for my WW2 fix now.

RangerX3X said...

Nice review of a reboot from a fantastic game in its own right (COTA). I will definitely be picking this up as one of my favorite short scenarios has always been Parachutes over Corinth.

Miguel said...

Thank you for the review, Chelco (and amazing content you have in this blog, by the way).

I will be linking it on the official forums, as your review goes over some of the most frequently questions asked there.

Phil said...

Great stuff. I have this game and just don't play it enough.

JC said...

Thanks for reading, gents!

Jason Rimmer said...

I have all the games in the series except the HTTR expansion.

COTA though the one I had the least interest in when under development turned out for em the best game scenario wise in the whole series. So I'm really looking forward to giving these scenarios a whirl in the BFTB engine.

I'm looking forward to the Crete scenarios though and also one day the east front game.