Congo Merc (CM) is not your typical HexWar title. For one thing, it doesn’t have hexes. Nor does it feature the typical UI we – or at least I – have come to associate with the company’s plethora of ported titles the likes of Tank Battle: North Africa and Civil War: 1862. Even Command and Colours: The Great War has a similar interface – plus hexes! – although developed by a different house than the first two examples. Instead, Dream Walker Games has ported Decision Games’ like-titled solitaire board game to the PC, thereby forcing me to learn an entirely different system!
Not having played the board version, I cannot comment on it; but read on to find out how deserving this effort might be of your time, not to mention your $5.49 (CDN | At Time of Publication).
First, it’s noteworthy that this game endeavours to simulate mercenary involvement in 1960s colonial Belgian Congo and its civil war, rather than the more recent (and likely remembered by most readers) so-called First and Second Congo Wars. Regardless, no attempt at ‘historical’ content is made, much less to model any political aspect of the clash; the player is a presumed general in charge of an anonymous mercenary group(s), whose only role is to recruit and assign first-name-only ground leaders and equipment to carry out typical missions such as search and destroy, rescue the prisoner, obtain intel, and capture the rebel (Simba) leader. (Actually, that’s all the missions; more in a bit.) Aiding one to accomplish this before one’s Operations Points (Ops) run out are units such as commandos, helicopters, sappers, CIA infiltrators, and generic ‘heavy weapons’, all bought by spending an allotment of Resource Points at the beginning of each scenario. The included ‘campaign’ merely repeats the four scenarios in a linked sequence, albeit the exact victory conditions change slightly – and can drag a game out; see later on – though rewards such as extra Intel carry over.
ORDER OF BATTLE
While suggesting alternative ‘Graphics quality’ settings, Simple appears to be the only choice Congo Merc offers, albeit screen resolutions to 2560×1440 are supported. Played on a map of – shockingly! – the African Congo, the game is actually quite attractive; when zoomed in one gets an impression of jungle and grassland with superimposed political features, from perhaps a GPS satellite. Any perceived ‘realism’ quickly vanishes with the stylised units icons, however; while not unattractive, soldiers’ bouncing berets while firing machine guns mounted in the back of a jeep disabuse one of the notion that this is a serious simulation. Again, however, since I have mentioned before that HexWar titles are ‘wargaming lite’, this is not a bad thing.
What isn’t good are some poorly-ported features such as the Game Rules; scrolling the text box with a mouse wheel requires speed-reading ability, although click-and-hold while moving works. For a few users, including me, the game also suffered from a Tutorial-breaking bug that has now been fixed, yet some anomalies remain that don’t translate from the board game, for example an optional rule that allows the player to pick an ‘Event Card’ – which are not featured. Speaking of Optional Rules, however, the rest do extend replayability by adding tactical variance such as more air and recon rules, and to extend movement using a Supply Column, but the drawback is that they are an ‘all or none’ pick. A couple of other relatively minor annoyances include the inability of the map to be zoomed whilst units are selected, and no ‘skip animation’ option; even if one side or the other is Panicked or eliminated, all shots must be targeted and executed, one by one, until the round/battle is over. And there’s no retreat option, either, if the player happens to be outgunned…
The next most irritating aspect of CM for me was how supposed Heavy Weapons – apparently .50 calibres mounted on halftracks – and Armoured Cars seem so fragile; a single soldier with a tommy gun can panic them or knock them out (albeit I admit we are still discussing ‘major abstraction’ here). Even so, for the price of two Commando jeeps, which get two shots each, the four shots of the Heavy don’t seem worth the risk of it getting KIA with one hit vice two. Lastly, during a campaign, if a player is able to achieve two of three objectives early on, the rest of the scenario can drag as one searches for the Rebel Leader, for example, who has to be taken out to achieve victory; run out of Ops meantime, and it’ll be a do-over.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Combat is conducted after movement, when rebels are randomly encountered in numbers ranging from a couple of ‘1-shot’ units to a force made up of several, varying in strength from 2 to 5, perhaps even including ‘Cubans’ who get 6 shots (in comparison to a Heavy Weapon’s 4; see above). These are often modified by +1 in favour of the rebels due to terrain, and if they get initiative – again determined randomly as Tactical Superiority – the battle could be over quickly.
The entire CM ‘war’ might not take a whole lot longer; there’s no Difficulty setting, and once the tactics have been learned and beaten, I’d suggest replayability ends after completing the campaign with the Optional Rules toggled. (One user claims to have done so and earned all 12 Achievements while having less than 12 hours on record!)
So, although many casual gamers will find challenge in its limited objectives combined with decent replayability – we’re still talking about a ~$5 game, after all – I can’t recommend Congo Merc for experienced wargamers, certainly not any who would consider themselves grognards – unless they have a spare 15 minutes stuck in traffic and have the iOS version on their phone. Myself, I just wanted this particular civil war to end.