Space Infantry Preorder

Battle Academy – Operation Sealion Expansion PC Game Review

Developer: Matrix/Slitherine
Author: Boggit

click images to enlarge

In September 1940, the UK was bracing itself against the prospect of invasion from Nazi Germany. Fortunately, it was called off, largely due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to achieve its goal of air superiority during the Battle of Britain. Battle Academy – Operation Sealion gives us Matrix/Slitherine’s take on what sort of actions might have been fought had Operation Sealion been given the go ahead.

Battle-Academy-Operation-Sealine-Review-Sept-2013-OS1

Sitrep, Sir! Jerry’s got the airfield, and we’ve got to get it back. You have regulars, and “Dad’s Army”. Easy, eh?

Battle Academy is a tactical level, turn-based, fast play type wargame. The map is a grid of squares, with each square – if unit ranges are anything to go by – representing some 100 metres across. That at least is what I concluded, as it seemed obvious. I’ve since learned from Jim Zabek that when he wrote the core game review for the Wargamer, Slitherine told him that in fact the ranges were not linear. For some curious design reason each square has a logarithmic variation… Sealion is an expansion to the core game, so this logic likely applies here too. Units are portrayed as single vehicles, guns, with infantry in units of five men, and support weapons like LMG’s and mortars, typically two. There are no specific unit organisations, but in terms of the game scale, I found it easy to rationalise each unit as a representative infantry platoon, or support/tank section.

Gameplay is flexible, with units able to move and fire, in whatever order the player likes. A player can tweak their starting force by spending a limited supply of “force requisition points”, which has the effect of adding variation to the stock scenarios. The rules are simple, yet effective, providing a fun game with a modicum of realism. Off map assets, from artillery to airstrikes are represented, as is unit training, replacements, fresh supplies etc. Vital to game play are the spotting rules, and ambushes from cover represent a real threat. Most of the challenge of the game is in the scenario design rather than the AI. Whilst the AI is not overly challenging – even on the hardest level – the majority of scenarios in Battle Academy – as well as many user made ones – have nasty surprises to trap the unwary, often making good use of the spotting rules.

If a tougher challenge is required, then a good feature is Matrix/Slitherine multiplayer PBEM support. This can be accessed in the Matrix/Slitherine forum via their Multiplayer “Lobby” to find human opponents for Battle Academy.

If you want to create your own battles, or mod the game, you’re in luck. Battle Academy is designed to be moddable, and is also supported by a functional game editor to create your own battles.

Battle-Academy-Operation-Sealine-Review-Sept-2013-OS2

Leading the way, British regulars supported by Home Guard pull off an ambush against German Paratroopers.

So what does Operation Sealion have to tempt us?

Well, for starters there’s a 10 scenario campaign, featuring a variety of hypothetical cameo actions. “Campaign”, is perhaps overstating it a bit. This is not a dynamic campaign, where the results continue to affect a core force, or somehow influence the outcome of the campaign. Instead I found a logically scripted campaign narrative linked to a collection of scenarios. The scenarios are playable only as the British side, and the campaign ends with a pre-set outcome – the defeat of the Nazi invaders.

Each scenario can be played independently, but to get the most immersion from the “campaign” story, it is best to play them sequentially, with victories leading to the next battle. Completion of a scenario requires the achievement of core objectives within a turn limit, with extra kudos for achieving subsidiary goals. I say extra kudos because other than your own satisfaction, and sense of challenge, taking subsidiary objectives hasn’t the slightest effect on the progress of your campaign.

Whilst a dynamic, playable either side campaign would be ideal, I did enjoy the British “Campaign”. The maps and units are attractive, and clearly drawn. Whilst the AI isn’t too much of a challenge, even at the highest setting, the scenarios are well designed, and compensate for this. Given the time constraints for victory on the attack, the pressure is on to take ground as quickly as possible. I often ran into MG’s, and anti-tank weapons in good ambush positions. On the defence, I had to be active, since at the outset of most defence missions I found myself either heavily outnumbered, or outclassed, and good defensive tactics are the key to dealing with this.

Battle-Academy-Operation-Sealine-Review-Sept-2013-OS3

The background story for one of the “Raid” scenarios. These scenarios offer a very fresh experience.

Specifically, Sealion’s scenarios comprise five defend missions, and five attack. There are subtle variations between the defend missions, and whilst for the most part you need to hold particular objectives, and usually kill a specified number of German units, in some cases reinforcements will permit a counterattack. The five attack missions have their own challenges, and two are “raid” missions using Special Forces.

Battle-Academy-Operation-Sealine-Review-Sept-2013-OS5

At night, under the cover of a rainy squall, my Auxiliaries take down a SdKfz 10/4 flak unit in a silent assault

The scenarios are fun to play, and introduce a variety of new units. Matildas, A10/13 Cruiser tanks, PzKfw II’s, PzKfw III’s, etc. all make their expected appearances, but additionally there new units like the Armadillo, Gunboats, Home Guard, Sticky Bombers, and Auxiliaries. The Armadillo is an armoured truck, and is definitely a ‘wannabe’ tank.

Auxiliaries” deserve special mention. They are Churchill’s “Secret Army” – a type of early Special Forces commando unit specialising in covert operations. Special rules have been added for them, such as the infiltration move, and the silent assault reflecting their special qualities. Making its debut to the series are gunboats, which act effectively as waterborne tanks with the ability to transport troops. Not surprisingly, both these unit types feature in the “Raid” scenarios.

Battle-Academy-Operation-Sealine-Review-Sept-2013-OS4

The German Hordes storm ashore! With luck my Vickers MG will hold, but I doubt it. I have some nasty ambushes set up, and lying in wait…

The terrain and unit graphics are very clear and attractive, and obvious effort has been made to get things to look right. In keeping with the cameo nature of the scenarios, many of the terrain items have a distinctly “English” feel, with period flavour items such as the red telephone, and post box. Similarly, the buildings such as the village pub, seafront houses, and the 1940’s style shops all look right, and greatly add to the atmosphere of the game.

The lack of any dynamic campaign, and having only one playable side in single player, is the biggest criticism I have for Battle Academy. To a lesser extent is the underpowered AI, but in fairness this has been tempered with good scenario design, and the option to play multiplayer. On the flip side, the game is graphically very polished, and for a “Beer and Pretzels” style game, it is a lot of fun to play.

Despite the issues with the core game, I found Operation Sealion a very nice addition to Battle Academy. It adds more unit variety to the mix, and some interesting new scenarios. I especially liked the immersive terrain art for 1940 England.

The Grumpy Grog says “We shall fight them on the beaches! Operation Sealion is cracking good fun.

Discuss this review in our forums >>


Recommendations

   

Leave a Reply

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