World War II remains the “go to” period for developers and publishers wanting to make a quick hit. Be they turn-based strategic or RTS, tactical games about this war will always find a ready audience. Tank Warfare Tunisia 1943 represents the teaming of publisher Strategy First and developer Graviteam – known for Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front – to produce an RTS single player tactical game for the American confrontation with the Germans in North Africa. Since the market is full of similar games, what does this game bring to the table that, say, Battlefront’s Combat Mission doesn’t?
Dust and Smoke
Graviteam does a fine job in making desert terrain bloom in the tactical mode. Naturally, the dominant features are flat stretches of brown sand marked by darker gullies (wadis). These features are broken up by rock outcroppings, ancient ruins, a few roads, the white-washed buildings of villages, palm trees and olive gardens. Field works include trenches and sand-bagged emplacements. Troops under fire find their way to cover provided by undulations in the ground. The smooth zoom and rotate features allows birds-eye and worms-eye views of all graphics allowing players grasp of the situation for complete battalions or individual men and machines. Atmospheric conditions are not forgotten. Dust from movement can be seen from many kilometers away and a close-up view of the rear of vehicles show exhaust fumes. Shells burst with clouds of smoke, throwing shrapnel and debris into the air. Signal flares of different colors are used to communicate with other units. Stricken vehicles burn and smoke and leave blackened wrecks. Tank crews sometimes leap from their burning vehicles to run around like hideous torches – some of the graphics should have a PG rating.
Unit graphics are incredibly detailed. Every bolt, sprocket, muzzle brake, canteen, ammo belt and helmet is depicted in accurate detail. Animation enhances the feeling of “being there”. Close-ops of artillery pieces illustrate gunners opening breeches, ejecting shell and closing after reloading. Turrets swivel but the commander’s machine gun traverses the other way when targeting infantry. Soldiers mount the rear of vehicles and sit. Infantry do low crawl, take cover behind vehicles and crumple when hit. Other graphic nuances include colored lines for paths, sight vectors and lines of fire. When deploying, near-by squares indicate if a unit can be positioned there and the level of protection offered.
Sound effects are very helpful tactical as noise is directional, i.e. sounds get louder the closer players scroll towards the source. Such a system provides for finding distant enemies and lost friendly units. Combat and movement sounds are appropriate for the machines and weapons making them. Voices also give clues to a situation but some of the talk is meaningless and distracting.
Operational maps serve the purpose of deploying troops for campaigns and surveying a tactical situation. Units are represented by silhouettes that need to be viewed with the manual open for explanation. The briefing map mode shows possible enemy movement and friendly counter-moves from present positions. The operational mode resembles a topological map with elevation markings and terrain features. Zoomed-in, reachable squares are designated by green dots. Enemy key points are in blue while friendly ones are shown in red. These maps are adequate but more information on unit type with information on topics like caliber should be given here and on the force list.
The 56-page PDF manual and six tutorials are a mixed bag. The tutorials cover the basics but play as mini-battles so players find themselves waiting for instructions while a new enemy appears without more help from the tutorial. Not all of the on-screen information is explained and the instructions for the campaign tutorial flow a bit fast to easily read. The manual goes into great detail on the tactical game but still leaves out some information. Players must piece together the basics of campaigns and the editor by clicking around the screen.. More information can be found on Graviteam’s Facebook page and YouTube videos are helpful. An excellent encyclopedia rounds out the information for players.
Battle in Detail
The action in this game revolves around Sidi Bou Zid, the first phase of the Kasserine Pass fiasco. The game offers two quick battles, both played as American, and three campaigns, one German and two American. Three of the tutorial battles are challenging enough to be considered mini-scenarios.
Quick battles go instantly to tactical mode and are at reinforced company level. Players should immediately take note of the menu at the top of the screen which controls the battle environment. Here, camera views can be attached to units, selected units can be found, command level shown along with the essential play speed controls. The two speeds are normal and fast. Fortunately, “pause” is an option with commands able to be issued while the game is paused. Two menu bars at the bottom show players forces’ and possible unit commands. Left-clicking on either the on-screen unit, its symbol in the menu or the mouse lasso selects it giving access to the combat menu. Options include formations, fire sectors, priority targets and mount/dismount. All commands can also be given through shortcuts. Movement is done by right clicking on a spot and then choosing the movement type from a wheel that appears. The eight choices include, attack, assault, march, recon and covert move. A column of symbols on the left shows the selected unit status while a column of the right tracks events.
Action comes quick and furious with the AI going for players’ jugulars. Players will find themselves using “pause” frequently to change position and targets. Units will engage enemies and take cover automatically but don’t always make the optimal choice. Unit efficiency is affected by the command level, a function of units’ distance from their commander, and whether communication is by voice, flare, phone line or radio. This single player system is complicated and challenging, insuring many hours of play before victory is achieved. Play is further enhanced by the accurate inventory of equipment for both sides. Wind, heat and cloud cover can hamper sight, ballistics and the ability to call in artillery and air strikes.
Campaigns are actually operations often to regimental level using the operational map. In briefing mode, blue and red symbols and arrows show the active side’s plans and estimated enemy positions. Switching to the operational mode shows the player’s platoons on the board with reinforcements on the map margins along with the turn they’ll arrive. Some of these units are supply units and do their job even on the margins. Certain units can have their composition changed or even be replaced from the force list. The relative status of platoons is shown with green, yellow, red or black coloring. Units are moved on to green spots as desired with the fuel usage and fatigue caused by the move shown as percentages. Clicking on a blue enemy square signals an attack. Advancing the turn usually has the sides collide causing battle markers to appear. Right clicking on a marker yields automatic resolution of the battle while clicking on one of those causes the tactical mode to kick in. The AI chooses which battle to play first as its duration delays the start of any other fight. Victory is measured in key points and casualties.
The battle editor is easy to use. The historical map is used so players need only place units, key points and weather parameters. Some user missions are already available on Dropbox.
Tank Warfare Tunisia 1943 is very similar to games like the Combat Mission series on the tactical level, but the flexibility of the operations give the game an added spark. Some players lament the lack of multiplayer but the solo content is challenging enough. Veterans of earlier Graviteam games will have no trouble with the new game but beginners deserve a better manual. Aficionados of tactical wargames will be doing themselves a favor by checking out this game as it ranks high on the Cobb Scale of Good.