GrogHeads Reviews Battle Academy 2 – Eastern Front expansion Kursk

The first expansion for BA2 Eastern Front is here.  How does Kursk stack up?

Lloyd Sabin – April 20, 2015

Largess

Here in the West we tend to be a bit short-sighted when it comes to history. Take a look at the majority of American movies and books on World War II and the Western Front will almost always be the main focus. The Eastern Front, if discussed at all, is framed as a distant, alien component of World War II, not more than a sideshow because of its foreign nature to Americans.

As grogs, we know this is a huge mistake. World War II’s Eastern Front was the central land combat theater of the entire war, far larger and certainly more pivotal than the Western Front, dwarfing land combat operations anywhere else on the globe during World War II. It was on the Eastern Front that Adolf Hitler attempted to establish his concept of lebensraum for the Third Reich, where the Reich’s logistics and supply systems were severely tested by distance and weather, and, ultimately, where World War II was decided in a massive, bloody, total war to the death between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

And within this bloody total war, the central, deciding push was The Battle of Kursk (German offensive Operation Citadel), begun in July, 1943. It pitted almost 800,000 German troops under the command of Generals von Manstein, Kluge, Hoth, and Model (among others) against almost 2,000,000 Soviet troops led by General Zhukov and a cabal of other generals. In 2015 it’s almost impossible to conceive of these gigantic numbers of men, not including the thousands of tanks and heavy guns arrayed on both sides. In the end, The Battle of Kursk would further evolve beyond just being the most colossal battle on the most pivotal front of the war – it would also morph into the most gigantic clash of armor the world has ever seen.

Hard to resist the Kursk campaign now that is available, especially playing as the Germans.

Hard to resist the Kursk campaign now that is available, especially playing as the Germans.

Fitting In

Big shoes to fill for Slitherine, eh? Not to worry. The original Battle Academy, a turn-based, isometric, campaign-driven game, was built to last, and received solid reviews when it was first released. One of its only problems was that it was set on the Western Front! Battle Academy 2 addressed that concern with its initial release last year, with campaigns set in Russia starting with a tutorial campaign, then ranging from Operation Barbarossa through to Operation Bagration, along with other different theaters, 100s of different units and even skirmish maps available. The starting price of $40.00 US may be a bit high for some, but players do get a lot of hours of gaming in the original package for their money. What they didn’t get was the ability to play as the Germans, which has now been remedied with the Kursk expansion.

Along with a playable German Kursk campaign split into multiple missions and a host of new German units to utilize, there are key new features, like unit carryover between missions, which players have been clamoring for since the original release. If you enjoyed the original Battle Academy games, especially Battle Academy 2, it is safe to say that you will enjoy Kursk.

Elefant tank destroyers are featured and play a large part in the Kursk missions. They are great fun to use.

Elefant tank destroyers are featured and play a large part in the Kursk missions. They are great fun to use.

Fleshing Out

I could not help but fall in love with the first German Kursk mission. It tasks the player with paving the way for the larger offensive operations to come. It took me by surprise though because it takes place entirely at night, and with small infantry, engineer and commando units. No mechanized units are involved in this first mission at all, which disappointed me at first because of my high armor expectation for an Eastern Front game!

As I settled in though, I began to really enjoy it. Being familiar with the AI from the original Battle Academy 2, it was like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes and just running, with a few new bells and whistles in the new units. The UI is the same – it gets the job done but still has some minor niggling issues, most prominent being that it is very easy to select the wrong action for your units. A couple of times I wanted to assault a position with engineers and inadvertently chose a direct attack from a distance. There’s no way to undo the decision either. Not a show-stopper – more of a niggling annoyance. Pathfinding could also be a bit more streamlined but it worked well for me 99% of the time. Additionally it is sometimes difficult to select a unit – two or three taps from the player’s mouse are sometimes needed.

Waffen SS troops are also available to play, and are quite formidable, with morale and charge bonuses.

Waffen SS troops are also available to play, and are quite formidable, with morale and charge bonuses.

I’ve read about some disenchantment with Battle Academy’s graphics, but for me, they work. I didn’t go into this game thinking I was going to get Skyrim on the Eastern Front. Animations are good…Elefants and Stugs rock back and forth when firing in a satisfying motion, Tigers and Panthers feel dominant and imposing, and combat between specialized troops is tense and exciting. The battle map can be zoomed quite close in, as well as rotated. I found my sweet spot, as most gamers do, and rolled with it from there, rarely zooming further in or back out. When zoomed all the way in the detail is very good, but I couldn’t play the game that far zoomed in.

The missions are the core of the series, and that holds true for Kursk too. What initially was a disappointment with light units in the first mission turned to a great gaming moment, harkening back to my early gaming days. As my engineers prowled through the dark forests and trenches, I could not help think of one of my favorite older games from MicroProse, Airborne Ranger.

As is to be expected from a Kursk campaign, armor clashes are very well done and exciting, with Tigers and STuGs on the German side, and KV-1s, T-26s and T-34s on the Soviet side, just to name just a few. The unit variety is becoming a hallmark of the Battle Academy series.

As is to be expected from a Kursk campaign, armor clashes are very well done and exciting, with Tigers and STuGs on the German side, and KV-1s, T-26s and T-34s on the Soviet side, just to name just a few. The unit variety is becoming a hallmark of the Battle Academy series.

Airborne Ranger put the player in the shoes of a single commando, responsible for throwing the enemy’s logistics and infrastructure into disarray. This first mission of Kursk is similar, in that the player is tasked with clearing Russian minefields, while taking on some Russian pillboxes, trench networks, riflemen and a heavier artillery piece or two. There are main and secondary objectives as well as adjustable difficulty, which I used rarely in the beginning phases. Playing at the middle “normal” setting felt well balanced.

The graphic novel style of mission intros is back and is even better looking this time around.

The graphic novel style of mission intros is back and is even better looking this time around.

Big Reveal

After the initial surprise with the infantry units in the first mission, I was rewarded with what I expected in the next mission: heavy armor! Kursk does not disappoint. Dozens, if not hundreds, of German and Soviet armored units are represented here, all with their own stats, quirks, specialties and characteristics. Tanks of all types, including the Tiger, the Panther, T-26 and T-34 and many more are here, as well as infantry carriers, halftracks, tank destroyers, mobile artillery…they are all here, rendered in 3D and damned fun to use.

The system is turn-based, which is nothing new, but the way turns are implemented builds suspense in larger skirmishes. Taking turns are an exciting joy for the player, and the AI, which has never been an issue for Battle Academy, is no slouch in the Kursk expansion either. I did notice that the first mission or two felt a bit easier than what I remembered from the original East Front game, but that may just be because I have more experience all around with the game system this time around.

Fighting at night adds a level of tension to the new missions.

Fighting at night adds a level of tension to the new missions.

The simple but deep system of the Battle Academy series is addicting and that has just grown with this expansion into the Battle of Kursk. The price may be on the higher side, but rest assured you are getting what you pay for: a solidly built game (I haven’t experienced one crash in 30+ hours) that will challenge you, present you interesting and varied Eastern Front content, a great variety of units and the chance to play as the Germans in addition to the Soviets. If you are an Eastern Front aficionado, Battle Academy 2 – Kursk will not disappoint.

And if you’re not, it may convert you. There’s lots of well-crafted Eastern Front content here to make it fascinating to newcomers too.


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