Battle Academy 2: Battle of Kursk – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Great feel, crafty AI, nice interface, great editor and sandbox options, much replay value
Failed Basic: Abstract scenarios, locked scenarios, campaign AI never changes positions.
Slitherine’s turn-based Battle Academy 2 Eastern Front already had enough content to keep gamers busy for months, if not years. Along with the Barbarossa, Winter Counteroffensive, Third Battle of Kharkov and Operation Bagration 1944 campaigns, the game has stable multi-play, an easy but simple scenario editor and a detailed sandbox (skirmish) option. Yet, what’s an Eastern Front game without Kursk? The most recent add-on, Battle of Kursk, answers this question with a fine addition to the series.
Please Don’t Feed the Armored Vehicles
The graphics continue in the Battle Academy tradition with clear, colorful 3D terrain showing high vegetation, rivers, streams, marshes, forest and elevated ground. Fortifications include pillboxes, artillery pits, trenches, minefields and barbed wire. Buildings come in all different sizes with a definite Russian architecture. Damage to buildings is persistent as is some smoke from wrecks. Shell craters, bodies and wrecks also stay visible throughout the scenario. Terrain features provide opportunities for ambushes. Possible enemy positions are seen as small question marks, probable enemies with small national emblems and observed foes with bright red triangles. A useful top-view can be toggled on from a small cog circle in the upper right corner. This circle opens a toolbar that has many other options to aid players including showing units’ lines of sight and of fire. The ubiquitous mini-map is also available although, given the other options, superfluous. Players can also place map pins to denote their situation if they save the game and can’t play for a while. Many view options can be accessed via hotkeys.
As nice as the map is, the real graphic stars are the vehicles. The entire panzer menagerie is present: Brummbärs, Elefants, Panthers, Tigers, and Wespes, with Wirbelwinds thrown in as anti-aircraft park keepers. The Soviet vehicles are not neglected: T-34s, T-70s, Zis42 AA halftracks, SU-152s and IS-2s, with some Lend-Lease vehicles thrown in. These vehicles are very well detailed with appropriate camouflage and markings. Infantry and artillery units are displayed in the same manner. Details of chassis and uniforms are exquisite when viewed close up and rotated with hotkeys. The status of all units is shown in an info bar along the bottom containing data on ammunition, men in the unit, morale, and effectiveness against armor and soft targets. Gold chevrons above units denote elite status. More detailed specifications on units are available from the toolbar or a hotkey.
The sound effects are clear rumbles, clanks and tramps for movement, bangs for explosions, sharp bursts for small arms and brief zooms for aircraft. The voice acting is excellent in both German and Russian. Players who don’t speak those languages can get the gist from the animations and the result messages although “Tovarish” and “Hol’ mir hier raus” need no translation. The manual is a fine example of how such documents should be written, and the tutorial campaign explains almost all aspects of play. Even gamers unfamiliar with the Battle Academy series will be able to jump right in and start enjoying ripping up the steppes.
Left-Clicking Through the Minefields
BA2-Kursk proves complicated interfaces are not necessary for historical games. Units are selected with a left-click, as are the highlighted destinations or targets. The second click brings up a drop-down menu showing movement or combat options. Most moves are of two types: “fast” or infantry “dash,” which provides longer movements at the cost of combat efficiency, or “hunt” which requires more action points over a shorter distance but facilitates spotting enemies and combat performance. Other movement options include turn facing, move wreck, vehicle reverse and load/unload troops and equipment from transports. Combat options cover direct fire, area suppression, bombard, popping smoke, assault and use of flamethrowers. Units attempting to ambush can be ordered to hold their fire while scouts can use all action points to extend their viewing range. Combat results include loss of men, suppression, retreat, rout, surrender or destruction. Successful units may earn promotion.
Other interface functions come from the toolbar at the map top; off-board assets on the left side. Since some scenarios have many units, the “next unit” button on the toolbar is extremely useful. Off-board assets include regular, rocket and smoke artillery, fighter cover and bomber strikes. Other assets include “rally,” “resupply,” and the gamey “drill sergeant” and “medic” abilities. “Drill sergeant” improves units’ capabilities on the spot while “medic” resurrects a fallen trooper. All these assets are “click-and-drag” and require some turns to “recharge” after use. Availability of assets varies per scenario.
Attacking the Obvious
In July 1943, the huge Kursk salient, pushing west from the north-south front, must have looked to the Germans like a chance to re-enact the Kesselschlacten of 1941. Thrusts from the northern and southern shoulders of the bulge could trap hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops. Marshal Georgi Zhukov didn’t need Ultra intercepts to know the German plans and began fortifying the salient in April. Millions of mines, hundreds of well-placed gun emplacements and pillboxes, miles of tank traps and thousands of determined soldiers turned the Russian position into a gigantic fortress. Moreover, he prepared a massive counterattack for when the Germans exhausted themselves.
Battle Academy 2 – Battle of Kursk covers the engagement with two campaigns: the German campaign in the north and the Soviet battle in the south. Each campaign consists of six scenarios, each with primary and secondary objectives, with units being carried over from previous scenarios and players having the opportunity to choose some units. Surprisingly, the first German scenario has no vehicles but is a nighttime mine-clearing mission using infantry, engineers and Brandenburger commandos. Players quickly learn to value the tooltip explaining the cover value of each terrain type, as well as the frightening power of Russian ambushes and reactive fire. Soviet militia may only be speed bumps but the regulars in the last belt of mines are rugged. Engineers can clear mines per the primary objective but must be protected, a difficult job given the Russian overlapping zones of fire. The next scenario, however, gives the Germans a panoply of armored vehicles and off-board assets. In trying to take a critical village, players discover the AI’s ability to hide forces in the meagerest of cover; they also find out that their new toys have a regrettable tendency to break down. Still, gamers may be able to do in the last scenario what the Germans couldn’t: advance in the north.
Soviet operations in the south at first are to hold the German onslaught. They accomplish this by whittling down the Germans’ weaker armor with artillery fire and then taking out the Tigers, Elefants and Panthers with waves of soldiers carrying anti-armor charges. These tactics work for holding victory points but not for the secondary objective of not losing many infantrymen. Later scenarios depict great armor clashes ending with Prokhorovka.
This game may not have all the details hard-core gamers like; the units and terrain are abstract. However, the feel of the scenarios is historical, perhaps more so than other “grognard” games. Combined with ease of play and the vast replay opportunity, this product is a worthy addition to any gamer’s shelf.
Armchair General Rating: 92%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Grogheads and Gamesquad.