DGS Games

First Impressions of Combat Mission Red Thunder

Grumpy Grog Says:  “Combat Mission Red Thunder is more impressive than a Katyusha barrage. Uurrraaaah!”

Developed and Published by Battlefront Inc.

First Impressions by Boggit

Red Thunder is the newest arrival in the Combat Mission series on the Eastern Front. It focuses on the battles during and just after the great Soviet offensive – Operation Bagration – from June to September 1944, covering the area of modern day Belarus, to the gates of Warsaw in Poland. The developers chose this period because, in terms of experience, the Red Army was generally able to match the German Army, thus in principle creating a more balanced game.

Advancing through woods, we make contact!

Advancing through woods, we make contact!

Since this is a first impressions piece, I haven’t spent as much time in actual gameplay as I usually put in with my full Combat Mission reviews. The article is based upon a couple of the new scenarios, half a dozen quick battles, and with some useful feedback from Steve Grammont of Battlefront regarding the changes to the game engine from the V3.0 upgrade.

As with previous Combat Mission base games, Red Thunder represents the first instalment of the modular system used by Battlefront to expand their tactical system into the Eastern Front between July-September 1944. As with the base game you actually get a lot of features, but bear in mind that future expansions, as in the past with other games in the Combat Mission series, will extend the game’s formations, weapons, vehicles, scenarios, timeframes, and campaigns.

So what do we get with Red Thunder? We see the appearance of the German Army, the Soviet Army, and its branch – the Soviet Guards. However, the SS, Luftwaffe, minor powers etc., are not included and will appear in future expansions.

Big nasty ‘88’ hiding in the woods. It hurts tanks, it hurts infantry!

Big nasty ‘88’ hiding in the woods. It hurts tanks, it hurts infantry!

Specific content for Red Thunder is:

  • 25 major Soviet formations ranging from the tough Guards Rifle Battalion to the Cavalry Recon Squadron, and the powerful Tank Regiment (Medium)
  • 17 German major formations ranging from the Panzer Aufklärungs Battalion (Armored), the scratch “Straggler” Company, and the awesome firepower of the Sturmartillerie Brigade
  • 26 Soviet Vehicles from the tiny T70M M1943, the flame tank OT34 M1942, and the classic T34/85 M1943
  • 70 German vehicles – yes 70! (However, Battlefront did have a lot of models from their earlier games to use) ranging from the deadly Panther D Late, the heavy assault gun Grille H, to a newcomer in the series the SdKfz 251/16 D – a flamethrower halftrack
  • 10 Small Arm types for the Soviets including the Mosin Nagant M1930 Rifle, the iconic PPSh 41, and the DPM LMG
  • 10 Small Arm types for the Germans from the Kar 98K sniper rifle, the MP44 assault rifle (that inspired the Kalashnikov) and the deadly MG42 LMG
  • 14 Soviet heavy weapons from the Maxim MG M1910, the ROKS 3 flamethrower, to the so-so  57mm AT Gun ZIS2
  • 17 German heavy weapons: from the assault flammenwerfer 41, the squad support  50mm GrW 34 mortar, and the lethal 88mm PaK 43/41 anti-tank gun
  • 12 off map artillery types featured for the Soviets like the 82mm mortar M1937, the 152mm howitzer M1938, and the fearsome bombardment power of 300mm BM31 rockets
  • 14 off map artillery types for the Germans such as the 120mm sGrw 42 mortar, the 105mm leFH 18 howitzer, and Germanys answer to the Katyusha, the 210mm Nebelwerfer 42 rocket
With a little smoke cover, the Guards race over open ground to a village house

With a little smoke cover, the Guards race over open ground to a village house

  • 2 aircraft types are available to the Russians: the IL2 ground attack, and PE2 dive bomber planes
  • 4 aircraft types are on the German roster from the FW190F8 ground attack plane, to the JU87D dive bomber
The terrain set is distinctively Eastern Front. The artwork on the church is… quite beautiful. Nice.

The terrain set is distinctively Eastern Front. The artwork on the church is… quite beautiful. Nice.

 

Flamethrowers make their debut in Red Thunder. I’m not sold on the yellow flame animation, but I do like the blue fuel at the beginning of the stream of fire

Flamethrowers make their debut in Red Thunder. I’m not sold on the yellow flame animation, but I do like the blue fuel at the beginning of the stream of fire

  • 18 scenarios ranging from a night fighting patrol, to fighting in dense forests, or open areas – great for tanks!
  • 10 master maps for designers. Five each are provided each for the Orsha (Russia), and Radzymin (Poland) areas
  • 3 Campaigns are included:
    • Blunting the Spear for the Germans defending outside Warsaw (6 Missions);
    • Hammers Flank for the Soviets initial breakthrough near Orsha (6 Missions);
    • A Training Campaign to ease new players into the game
  • Quick Battle players can choose an Eastern European, or Russian terrain tile-set offering new terrain, and graphics

As with the other Combat Mission games Red Thunder ships with a comprehensive – and reputedly easy to use (I haven’t got around to designing scenarios yet) game editor. The functionality of the editor has been improved in Red Thunder to allow the creation of larger maps, improved 2d map editing, and the use of mod tags for most graphics, which improves scenario customisation. A really nice feature and powerful tool is the introduction of AI Triggers. These allow AI forces to carry out actions based upon their interaction with other units, or objectives, which makes them much more responsive.

Those interested in plumbing the arcane lore of scenario design will find several useful user guides on YouTube by Ithikial and Proambulator. They’re not specific to Red Thunder, but the principles they mention are relevant to Red Thunder scenario design. I’ve just included a couple of links to get you started, if you want to try your hand at it, then just follow the links for more.

There are a growing number of maps, mods, and scenarios on the Battlefront repository; all which are all well worth a look. One of our forum members, veteran designer Michael Dorosh, has already

Infantry spotted in the woods. We’ve found them, now we’ll “fix” them!

Infantry spotted in the woods. We’ve found them, now we’ll “fix” them!

added three scenarios focusing on the actions of the élite Wehrmacht Gross Deutschland Division during the battle. You can find all this good stuff at Battlefront’s website

They may be planning to “fix” my BA-64 instead! – that looks like a Panzerschreck rocket… hmm…

They may be planning to “fix” my BA-64 instead! – that looks like a Panzerschreck rocket… hmm…

They do “fix” my BA-64! Although the rocket hits a tree, the blast kills the driver and wrecks the vehicle. Luckily the commander escapes to start a new career as a field medic!

They do “fix” my BA-64! Although the rocket hits a tree, the blast kills the driver and wrecks the vehicle. Luckily the commander escapes to start a new career as a field medic!

On a different part of the front, Soviet infantry advance through open, “peaceful” farmland – or is it?

On a different part of the front, Soviet infantry advance through open, “peaceful” farmland – or is it?

What of the gameplay? The core play is not dramatically different from the other Combat Mission games. Red Thunder does, however, introduce the V3.0 upgrade, which adds some very nice improvements. Most likely the V3.0 upgrade will be rolled out similarly to upgrades to the othergames in the series. For players new to Combat Mission, I recommend that they look at some of my earlier articles which deal to some extent with the basics of play.

The peace doesn’t last. As the infantry assault a wood under cover of smoke a T34-85 advances past towards an objective

The peace doesn’t last. As the infantry assault a wood under cover of smoke a T34-85 advances past towards an objective

The quick battle system is a good indicator of what is new in terms of parameters and gives a good idea as to the play with the basic engine. The AI here seems to be much better, at least so far. In the past I’ve seen AI units very slow to react to changes on the battlefield, but recent gaming has shown a much more intelligent and aggressive AI opponent. Maybe I’m just getting worse, but I’ve been counterattacked, flanked, and have seen enemy units retreat from a firefight to take up new ambush positions. The truth is that I’m not getting worse it’s the AI that is getting better. It’s due to Battlefront implementing AI triggers into the game routines, allowing the AI to be reactive instead of merely proactive. It really improves the single player experience.

The advance is cut short as an ambushing German’s grenade destroys the tank. The crew fight valiantly, but are soon killed.

The advance is cut short as an ambushing German’s grenade destroys the tank. The crew fight valiantly, but are soon killed.

A fighting patrol on a rainy night advance quickly on their objective

A fighting patrol on a rainy night advance quickly on their objective

Battlefront have not given a definitive list of the changes, largely due – as they say on the forums – to the fact that so much has been added, so to some extent they’ve lost track. That said some features are quite evident as you play, like the ability to have tank riders, the long awaited introduction of flame throwers – Yay! – water animations for fording units, AA guns now firing at aircraft as well as acting as ground-support weapons, and visual damage indicators on vehicles and bunkers.

The Germans counterattack with Tigers, but run into an anti-tank ambush. Note the tank riders – and the mixed camo selection now available to players - Cool!

The Germans counterattack with Tigers, but run into an anti-tank ambush. Note the tank riders – and the mixed camo selection now available to players – Cool!

There are also some nice changes to the user interface, which improves ease of play. An optional graphical command and control link tracing, hailing from the original Combat mission games, has been reintroduced into the Combat Missionx2 engine. No longer does the player have to make a manual search for the chain of command. A player simply uses a hotkey to trace itself to its immediate commander, which is – neat.  Casualties are now shown in the Soldier/Crew Panels to track soldiers lost during the game, which can help with finding casualties for buddy support. It also looks great for those people using coloured weapons mods like Juju’s UI Mod.

There’s actually loads more that the player can see directly, but there’s also a lot that is much more subtle: the way the forces ratio appears to be balanced in quick battles, the fact that while squads can split, the Soviet units have reliability issues when out of direct view of their platoon leader, leading to more suppression/routs. Ammo dumps are a new feature, making life much easier in longer battles, air support now can attack either with the benefit of, or independently of ground observers, and we now see a more realistic and varied rate of fire from automatic weapons. There’s a lot more… and I think most Combat Mission grogs will really appreciate what V3.0 has now brought to the game.

 

The maps can be massive. This one is from the German Campaign and stretches over 2.5km on the X and Y axis – that’s over 6.25 square kilometres of battlefield for a tactical game!

The maps can be massive. This one is from the German Campaign and stretches over 2.5km on the X and Y axis – that’s over 6.25 square kilometres of battlefield for a tactical game!

I was really excited at the prospect of playing Red Thunder, and it did not disappoint. For Combat Mission fans it is the start of a new adventure on the Eastern Front, and it has its own distinctive feel compared to other Combat Mission games.  For players new to Combat Mission it is as good a place as any to start, although frankly the other games have been further expanded with extra modules if a new player wants more units and scenario/campaign variety at short notice.

Grumpy Grog Says“Combat Mission Red Thunder is more impressive than a Katyusha barrage. Uurrraaaah!”

 


Discuss this preview in our forums >>


Further Reading

Penalty Strike: The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander, 1943-45 (The Stackpole Military History Series) [Paperback]  Alexander V. Ply’cyn (Author)

Bagration, 1944: The Destruction of Army Group Centre (Osprey Campaign) [Paperback]  Steven J. Zaloga (Author)

Stalin’s Revenge: Operation Bagration and the Annihilation of Army Group Centre [Hardcover]  Anthony Tucker-Jones  (Author)

Analysis Of Deep Attack Operations: Operation Bagration, Belorussia, 22 June – 29 August 1944 [Illustrated Edition] [Kindle Edition] Lieutenant Colonel William M. Connor (Author)

 

Video Inspiration

The DVDs are available from the publishers listed in the YouTube listings

Operation Bagration – Documentary

Archive film

Zvezda (the Star) Full Film (OK film: set slightly earlier than Red Thunder, but not by too much)

Some clips from the film Tali-Ihantala 1944 – the same time period as Red Thunder, but centred on a battle between the Finns and Soviets – great film though. Note the Finnish use of Russian weapons.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *