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Posted on Apr 11, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Moscow ’41 – Game Review (PC)

By Jim Cobb

m41_cover.gifFrederick the Great said Prussian wars must be "short and lively" due to Prussia’s limited resources and vulnerable geographic situation. That maxim held true for Germany in the Twentieth Century as well. By the summer of 1941, Germany had enjoyed a successful series of short campaigns stretching from Poland to France. Until October, the Russian campaign appeared to be taking the same route, German troops had driven the Soviets back everywhere, Moscow was being abandoned by the governmental apparatus and the panzers continued to roll. A funny thing happened then; winter came early. The environment itself turned against Hitler’s men and many new variables were added to the "terrible arithmetic of war." Elements appeared that made the war livelier in a sense the Germans didn’t care for and wiped the word "short" off the table. Working these new elements into an existing engine is the major challenge of John Tiller and HPS’ Moscow ’41.

Read All About It

Of the fifteen games in the ever-evolving Panzer Campaign series, none present such drastic changes in play as Moscow ’41. Changes come from two sources: the geography and climate in the game and a rather vociferous bunch of players at Tiller Con in June 2005. These changes will be detailed below; suffice it to say that the first source led to changes in movement, combat, and time scale while the second resulted in different approaches to anti-tank guns. These changes require even experienced players to read the in-game documentation very closely. This task is made easier by the documentation which mimics Windows Help with four main files, each with Contents, Find, and Index functions. Players should read the campaign notes very carefully in order to grasp how and why the new features affect play. By the same token, reading each scenario’s parameter data file is almost mandatory instead of relying of previous experience. The tutorial represents a fourteen-turn historical clash that showcases several of the major changes. Players may want to play it more than once.

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Painting A Very Large Canvas

Anything about the Russian Front must be huge. Terrain there contains of almost every imaginable element except palm trees. The drastic weather changes can mold one kind of terrain into something very different within a brief time span. Designing a map for this cannot be simple. Co-designer Dave Blackburn put together a map of more than 150,000 hexes and cooperated with Glenn Saunders to assure each hex changed the correct way with the weather. The map can be played in 2D and 3D modes, both with two zoom levels, with generic graphics for houses, vegetation, and the like being used in the 3D mode. Since a forest can morph into a swamp with changes in the weather, particular attention must be paid to the hex terrain portion of the information bar, showing ground conditions, elevation, and features such as roads. Another improvement pushed by popular demand is that railroads now look like railroads.

The range of a 150 mm battery is impressive. The magnitude of Operation Typhoon requires use of the jump map.

The Order of Battle presents designers with similar problems. Not only were immense numbers of troops involved but the German command structure changed significantly before and during Operation Typhoon. Greg Smith solved this problem by writing two different battalion-level OoBs: one for the late Fall stage and another for the colder, crippling Winter stage. To compensate for German thinness on the ground, some battalions can be broken down to cover more area.

Like the maps, units can be seen in two modes. The 2D mode uses NATO symbols on the counter. The 3D counter variation has strength, fatigue, and morale printed on them. A divisional shading option gives each division a unique color and really should be the default mode, given the importance of organization. The 3D mode has generic men, tanks, and guns. In terms of play, this mode brings little to the table and clutters the maps of large battles.

In-depth understanding of units comes from the information bar and various shading and highlighting options. Unit portraits display weapons or soldiers along with information on the unit’s strength, morale, fatigue, movement points, and status. Right clicking on this brings up the unit’s place in its organization, combat values, weapon range, and special abilities. Information on the selected hex follows in the information bar, showing terrain type and condition as well as any special terrain like roads or gullies, supply values, and victory points. Various highlighting and shading options show reachable hexes, visual ranges, unit status in terms of supply and command such as spotted, fixed, out of supply, and the all-important organization levels. The ability to use alternate highlighting colors makes spotting units in different terrains easier, e.g. using red, not white, on a snow map. The various options for these and other informational colorings can be accessed through the menu bar but hotkeys speed play. Players can either minimize the hot key Help screen or install Arno’s utility for showing hotkeys in the information panel. Available from the same site is Volcano Man’s portrait art.

The information bar out of the box. The information bar with Arno’s hotkey display and Volcano Man’s portrait art.

Sound effects are bare bone but good with shells whistling and crashing as small arms rattle. The background effects can soon become annoying. Nice exception to this is the wind’s rush during storms.

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