DGS Games

Grogheads Reviews Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front

Vance Strickland, 20 September 2014

So how does the newest installment of Battle Academy stack up to the reputation set by its predecessor? Let’s find out…

Never in the history of mankind has there been such a titanic struggle as the one played out on the Russian Front during World War II. The German army, already veterans of the new mobile style of combat with highly trained and for the most part well led troops. And the Russian Army, gutted of its leadership by years of purges, highly motivated by fighting for they very own homes, villages and cities. Locked in combat that took place across vast stretches of open farmland, or through tough urban battle grounds where every corner could bring swift death. Now you get to lead parts of the huge warmachines that clashed in Russia.

Battle Academy 2: East Front is the follow up to the very successful Battle Academy that took us through the fighting in West and in the desert of North Africa. Here you will be challenged in fighting that lasted for almost 5 years. From the opening acts of Operation Barbarossa to the death throes of Army Group Center in Byelorussia, you get to plan and execute your own tactics against the computer and other players. Are you game?

Main menu screen

Main menu screen

What’s in it

There are several ways to play BA2. You can play a campaign solo, play skirmish matches solo or multiplayer or play versus or co-op multiplayer scenarios.

The Campaigns

There are four campaigns listed under the Campaign header of the main menu. Well, five if you count the Tutorial, as this is where you’ll find it, but it is only one scenario.

The Operation Barbarossa campaign has 9 scenarios in it. As you’d expect, it’s about the start of the war in Russia, from crossing the border to the outskirts of Moscow. You play from the German  point of view here as your try to overcome the Russian hoards.

Next up is The Winter Counteroffensive in which you try to help the Russians push the German invaders back during the harsh Winter of ’41-’42. You’ll have 7 scenarios to accomplish this task. The Russians try to use General Winter to their advantage while the Germans are freezing in their tanks.

Zhukov's Counterstroke

Zhukov’s Counterstroke

Then there is the Third Battle of Kharkov in which you are the Germans again as the war rages over the city of Kharkov for 7 more scenarios. More snowy battles, but this time the Germans are prepared… for the weather at least.

Last is Operation Bagration 1944, where you command the Russian forces in Byelorussia as they try to destroy Army Group Center for good. You’ll have 8 scenarios to use  some of the most advanced hardware the Russians fielded in the war.

All of the campaigns are more a collections of scenarios that give a feel for what the various battles were like. You do not carry forces over from one scenario to the next and the outcome of one does not affect the following. In fact you can play the scenarios, and the campaigns, in any order you like. But playing the scenarios in the order they are laid out in the campaign gives you a good overview of how the battle progressed. They also increase in difficulty as you move forward, as do the campaigns.

Skirmish Mode

Skirmish mode is new for BA2. A much asked-for feature for the original BA, skirmish mode will greatly extend the life of this game.

In the setup for skirmish matches you can play either side, on maps from small to very large presets, or choose your own map size and layout. You can choose to use historically opposed forces or random forces from the entire war. The base terrain is chosen from urban, wilderness or farmland. Then you can set various levels for things like openness, pre-existing damage, rivers and fortifications. Chose a Winter or Summer fight. Reinforcements, scenario turn length, and scenario date engagement type are more items you can select.

With all this choice, it should be a very long time before you run out of East front combat gaming.

Lots of choices here

Lots of choices here

Multiplayer

Multiplayer is back and is again handled through Slitherine’s PBEM+ server system. This systems keeps the games files between player turns and send notifications of when it’s you turn to play. There are a number of scenarios that you can play this way.

New in BA2 is that you can play using the new skirmish setup instead of just the fixed scenarios. Lots and lots of MP goodness to be had. Also there are almost 30 scenarios from the campaigns that you can play  co-operatively against the AI. I have not tried this yet but as more people get the game it will be interesting to give it a shot.

The Editor

There is an editor included with the game to allow the crafty to make even more content. With the editor you can make your own maps, scenarios, even entire campaigns.

Bare map to build your own scenario creations

Bare map to build your own scenario creations

The editor section of the manual is very sparse, only a couple of paragraphs but it does state the a comprehensive manual is following this release.

 

How’s it Look and Sound

The game looks very nice. Not ground-breaking or anything, but very nice for a wargame. Menus are well laid out and it’s easy to find stuff where you’d expect to find it.

The game shows units as small models of what they represent. So a squad of troops is shown as 5 small soldiers armed with the appropriate representation of the weapon they are carrying. Weapon teams are shown as 2 men with their main weapon, i.e. light and heavy machine gun teams, panzerfaust teams etc. As the squads or teams take damage they soldiers fall to the ground and disappear, no blood shown. Now as most real squads had 10 to 14 men this will irk some of the more picky players out there but I just think of it as an abstraction for ease of display.

Similarly, vehicles are shown as individual tanks or trucks or halftracks etc. These are nicely detailed without going overboard with the rivet counting.

The maps are still a little cartoon-like but they give a good 3D feel of the terrain you are fighting over. New terrain styles are present in BA2 to represent the wide expanses of farmland or the dense urban jungles that were typical of East front fighting. The snowy terrain tiles for the winter maps make it look bleak and cold. There are even a couple of scenarios that take place at night and are shaded grey for the effect.

Tiger on the prowl near Kharkov

Tiger on the prowl near Kharkov

You can play the game from an isometric view or a top down view. Both views can be rotated and zoomed in and out. To get a the widest view of the battle field you need to be in top down mode. This is the same as in the original BA and it still bothers me that I can’t zoom back far enough in the iso view mode to see the entire battlefield. You can zoom all the way back in the editor to see the entire map so why can’t you in the game?

Another nice new touch with BA2 are the animated screens at the start of each campaign scenario instead of the old static cartoon panels of the original. It’s minimal animation, but it’s a nice addition.

Sounds in the game are functional – nice cannon sounds and explosions when tanks fire. Machine guns rattle away when fired. Soldiers yell out comments, in their native languages, as they take fire or are suppressed. There is stirring music playing in the background as well as the sounds of combat. Sounds effects (this includes voices) can be level controlled separately from the music should you want to turn the music down low or off. I like to keep it on but down very low.

Overall the looks and sounds have tried to tone down the cartoony-ness, with more muted colours and better voices, that many were turned off by in the original BA.

 

How’s it Play

When starting a scenario, you’ll be given a description of what the scenario is about, then shown a overview map with the locations of victory locations and other information like where reinforcements are to appear. Each scenario is played out over a set number of turns in which you have to complete your objective. There are also extra objectives available to achieve to prove that you are a master of the battlefield.

The scenario maps are not historically accurate but do portray the terrain that was typical of the Russian front from the thick forests of the north to the wide open plains of the south to the dense urban streets of the major city battles. Each map is divided into squares that regulate moving and shooting. Using squares instead of hexes will rankle some grognards but the system works well enough.

The game is played in the I-GO-U-GO style where one side moves and fires all its units then the other does the same. Each unit, be it an infantry squad or team or a vehicle, has a certain number of action points it can use to move in various ways. You can move a unit farther by moving in fast mode but you’ll get steep penalties if you want to fire later and you have the chance of stumbling into an ambush. If you use the Hunt move mode you move fewer spaces but have a better chance at seeing enemies before they can shoot at you.

To move or shoot with a unit, you first select it with a left click. This will highlight all the hexes that unit can move to and put a red triangle over any spotted enemy that are within your weapons firing range. Do this also causes a small pop up with the unit’s name and the terrain type it currently occupies. Along the bottom of the screen is more detailed information about the unit , like shots remaining, action points and various icons that give the units capabilities. You can get an even more detailed information screen by CTRL and left click on the unit.

Lots of info to help you fight... on skis!

Lots of info to help you fight… on skis!

If you want to move your unit, move your mouse over the square you want to move to and a small move menu pop up will appear with your move type options. Click on the square to activate the move menu and select the move type you want. Your unit will then animate as it moves to its new location. The same procedure is used to shoot at enemy units. You can move and shoot in any order and can even go back to units to do either until your turn is over.

How to get from point A to point B

How to get from point A to point B

Forget moving just blast'em! 

Forget moving just blast’em!

When you end your turn the other side moves and shoots with its units. Your units can opportunity fire at moving enemies if they come into range. Every unit has 1 op fire shot and you get more if you did not take all your shots during your turn.

Beware of Russians hiding in villages! 

Beware of Russians hiding in villages!

There are 3 difficulty levels you can play at, very easy, easy, and normal. You can even change between these levels in the middle of a battle. This is a nice touch for the newer wargamers as it lets them continue playing without having to restart all the time.

New to BA2 is that armoured fighting vehicles like tanks, tank destroyers, and armoured cars now have a coloured circle around then when they are selected that shows green across the front, where the armour is strongest, yellow towards the sides and red at the rear as a reminder of which way to keep your vehicle pointed. Also new is that armoured vehicles can now be damaged by fire instead of just suppressed or destroyed. They can take a light damage hit, like having a secondary weapon no longer work, or a heavy damage result, such as being completely immobilized. A small symbol will appear over the affected unit to remind you of its current damaged state.

 

Reading Material

The manual is a PDF file that is only 36 pages long and that includes the covers, contents, hotkey sheet etc., so only about 26 pages of actual game material. It’s in full colour and formatted with one page per page, i.e. not the small book style. This makes it very good for reading on a tablet as many people do today.

The manual does a good job of explaining how to move and shoot, what the different unit types are and how they can be used.  There are some tactical hints but not many. The most useful thing I found about the manual is the hotkey sheet at the end. I’ve got a hard copy next to my PC for easy reference.

Overall the manual is pretty minimal (like most games these days) but that’s OK as there is a tutorial and most everything in the game has pop-up details or can be found on various info screens.

 

Yeah, but is it worth it?

Battle Academy 2: East Front is a fun light wargame. If you are looking for a deep wargame that counts every bullet and has painstakingly accurate OOB’s, then it may not be for you. It’s meant to be a introductory game with just enough meat to appeal the more hardcore crowd as well. To me it hits that middle ground quite well. When I want to relax some and just blow stuff up in a WWII setting, then BA2 fits that bill very well with its new skirmish mode. When I want a little more tactical thinking I’ll play in the campaigns where you can’t just rush around and expect to win. The campaign scenarios are well thought out to be challenging without being impossible.  The AI is respectable and I haven’t seen it do anything overtly crazy or stupid. Is it as good as a human player? No but I haven’t found one yet that is, so there you go. I can’t wait to try out the new co-op mode.

Who should get this game? I’d say anyone looking to get into the wargaming hobby and even old grogs like myself that like a lighter challenge once in a while. If you enjoyed the original Battle Academy then I’m certain you will enjoy this version. There are sure to be many add-on campaign packs just like for the original. There are so many interesting places on the East front to visit: The Winter War in Finland, Stalingrad, The Battle for Sevastopol, Case Blue and the list goes on.

Jump on in and I hope to see you in the multiplayer challenges. Happy gaming.


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