I discovered Wargame ALB last summer.  It is a really brilliant RTS title.  You control a mixed force of air and land units from the NATO and Warsaw Pact armies circa 1985, and command them in fairly small engagements over varied terrain.  Here are some of the really great things about the Wargame ALB.

  • There’s no base-building, and only minimal resource management.  You have deployment points, which you use to call-in units off map.  These are produced slowly over time, depending on how many zones you control.  You available off-map units are determined before the battle begins via a really fun Army Construction system.  Building a balanced army, and learning how to use your units, is the heart of the game.
  • The game’s micro is really interesting, and does not feel stupid and artificial at all.  You have to match up unit type and engagement range to set up favorable mismatches – confronting a group of APC’s in the open with Tanks, for example.
  • The most critical thing at all times is air cover, because without AA any force will be mercilessly destroyed from the air.  So, engagements come down to figuring out how to break the enemy’s air cover, use your air to knock out their missile units, and then bring in your tanks to mop up.  None of this is easy.
  • The game has the best Recon system I’ve ever seen.  Different units have different levels of visibility, and different levels of Optics.  High Optics recon units can see a lot from a distance, while most units are nearly blind to anything that’s not in the open and right in front of them.  Finding your enemies first, and then knocking them out before they can effectively respond, is the ultimate coup.
  • Learning to effectively attack the enemy is hard, but incredibly satisfying when you pull it off.
  • Learning to use your air units effectively, without getting them shot down on their first mission, is just as tricky.

All of this has been said before, as the game was universally lauded by strategy critics upon release.

What is really, really amazing about this game is that it has a super-fun single-player campaign.  It just started working properly on my machine after the recent patches, which is why I’ve started playing the game again.  It’s a dynamic campaign on a strategic map, and you’re given objectives at the beginning.  You start with a pool of political points, which you can use to call in new units or to perform special strike missions.  When your unit meets up with an enemy unit, there’s a battle, and depending on the point differential and the total morale level of the units, the battle will result in unit destruction, unit retreat, or the continuation of the battle the next day.  Every battle wears your units out – if you threw away all your tanks in one engagement, you’re not getting any of them back.  The enemy also plays by the same rules, so if you know you knocked out their air in a previous battle, you’ll be able to take advantage of that in the next engagement.

In the past couple days, I’ve played through the first two campaigns.  The first is pretty easy, to give you a feel for the system, but the second campaign is a bit more challenging.  You have to deal with several Pact mechanized and armored divisions using a bunch of infantry and airborne units, and this is not an easy task.  Oh, how I would have killed for some simple, cheap tanks in these battles, but the NATO paras simply don’t have them, which forced me to figure out how to utilize all kinds of alternatives.   Even against a mediocre AI that had no idea how to use artillery, this was an interesting challenge.

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