We talk in detail about Wargame: European Escalation in this week’s podcast, and it’s a great show because Tom and Rob and Bruce have some great exchanges about why the game works. WEE is really a good game that shows that Eugen Systems understands real time strategy design as a studio at a level we probably haven’t seen across many titles since Ensemble. (Petroglyph, however, has come so close so many times.)
For me, the game is really about the tanks and stuff.
I used to be really into modern military equipment – a real missilehead. I knew which countries used which planes, how the Chinese altered the Mig-21, the difference between a Knox and Perry, the basic outlines of West German tank troops. I am not as interested in this sort of thing any more, but when you are young and you read books like Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Hackett’s The Third World War, then this sort of thing becomes second nature. (Yes, I used to read very crappy books.)
I think WEE works as equipment porn largely because of the time they chose. 1975 is, as Tom points out on the show, right when a lot of things in military armament design were changing. You have more computers in the advanced armor, you have the Apache gunship introduced in 1975 (changing how helicopters are seen in many ways), you have new conceptions of the value of the infantry man. There are no A-10s in service yet to provide close
Games that are about the Russians versus the West often have a tension in that they would love to get the latest and best equipment in front of you. Harpoon, one of my all time favorite games, had this problem. The Seawolf submarine wasn’t yet in commission, but there it was in game. The Russians didn’t have a real aircraft carrier, so they had to rush one into service. So it is that games like World in Conflict are full of M1A1’s and T-90s. Flight sims from the 90s had the latest planes and manufactured weird conflicts to make sure that SU-27s and F-18s can duke it out.
1975 is in the middle of a transition era in equipment and politics. American prestige is at its post-war nadir, with a weak President Ford and the loss of Vietnam. Despite the spirit of detente, there are still many chances for there to be a real war and WEE paints a somewhat plausible case of an overeager East German Army dragging the world into war.
There is a great variety of weaponry in Wargame: European Escalation. There is a “variant” button so you can see all the different versions of Chieftain or Leopard. Why on earth would you NOT want to see this? The differences between the generations of vehicle are fascinating and have led me to Wikipedia and local bookstores to find out more about the NATO or Warsaw Pact armies and the histories of the evolution of weapons platforms.
For me, this remains a good cue that I am playing a very good strategy game. If it has something I can learn more about and it drives me to do so, then the game has gotten its hooks into me. No, the army doctrines aren’t here, so I am not using my T-72’s in a proper Soviet way. But then, I can read about more of that to refresh the things my 18 year old brain knew.
We should probably do a podcast on books and strategy gaming, though it would be dominated by Bruce pulling things off his shelf that were autographed by Jan Mazurkiewicz.