Both Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader have entranced hardcore World War II tactical wargamers since 1977. Computer versions that tried to ape these games closely flopped while other computer games have borrowed concepts but were able to succeed by using tried and true engines. Developer Peter Fisla of Siliconsoft Systems took a middle route. “Inspired” by Advanced Squad Leader, Tigers on the Hunt doesn’t attempt to copy the board game but the similarities are very obvious.
2D Will Do
The tactical map is like an Advanced Squad Leader map, a vertical oblong with each map having ten-by-thirty-three forty meter hexes. These maps can be combined with three maps horizontally and vertically, creating possibilities for small skirmishes or large actions. Terrain is also very similar to the board game with a top-down, non-zoomable view. Buildings can spread over multiple hexes with wooden structures painted brown and stone ones in a blueish-gray. Woods, brush and orchards are displayed nicely in hexes while grain is orange splotches. Paved and unpaved roads are quite clear. Rubble is marked as circled jumbles with the color of the terrain destroyed. Victory hexes are marked with the flags of the side currently occupying them. Elevations cannot be discerned directly from the map but by reading the hex info for the moused-over hex in the segment and turn panel on the right of the screen. This area will also inform players if grain and orchards are in season, an important line-of-sight (LOS) consideration. Locations all seem basically the same with green being the dominant map color – not even the Tunisian scenario has a locale-specific graphic. Weather and time of day are shown by visibility ranges with no other graphic or play concessions to seasons.
Counters are small outlines of the weapons platform represented: single men for leaders, silhouettes for squads, vehicles and heavy weapons and ordinance while radios stand in for forward observers. Non-vehicular units – squads, leaders, crews and heavy weapons – can be stacked up to three squads, four leaders and one vehicle per hex. Right clicking on a hex brings up a box showing all units in the hex. Vehicles can’t be stacked. Due to their small size, little information is on the counters. Tiny colored triangles in the counter corners explain movement status and small stars mark experience. Much of this information is in text in the unit information box but players may want to install tools like Virtual Magnifying Glass for a closer look at counters. More information on the German, Russian and American 78 personnel units, 40 support weapons, 95 ordnance pieces, 28 off-board artillery pieces and 162 vehicles can be found in appendices of the manual as are movement costs. ALT-TABing out of the game will be important since players will use the PDF manual often. Another fine feature of the manual is an annotated listing of the 22 scenarios present at launch.
Play is aided by markers showing fired, broken and pinned status. Other aids include the LOS tool that outlines possible targets, the range tool with small white dots indicating a unit’s range, large white dots displaying where a vehicle can move and red dots exhibiting the covered arc of ordinance pieces and vehicles’ main armament. Leg units can move into white-outlined hexes with the last possible hex outlined in red. On-board fire is traced by quick white streaks and off-board artillery makes satisfying but transient craters unless it rubbles a building or other terrain features. Perhaps more helpful are the frequent clear error messages that pop up when players try an illegal action.
Sound is satisfying with the usual bangs, booms and movement noises. A steep learning curve is tamed by six very good video tutorials and a walkthrough in the 104-page manual for the first of four tutorial scenarios. YouTube play-throughs are also helpful.
Players may wonder why the graphics are a bit pedestrian. One answer is the developer wanted to put computing power and memory into the AI and not eye candy. Another is that the computer game needed to have a certain level of faithfulness to the board game. Yet another powerful reason are the potential for lawsuits from Hasbro, owners of the Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader franchise.
Clicking our Way to Victory
To an audience accustomed to selecting and giving orders with a click, a right-click or click-and drag, Tigers on the Hunt’s mechanics may seem clunky. Clicking on a hex just selects the hex; selecting a unit requires going to the unit info box and clicking the unit or holding CRTL to select other units in the hex. When moving, the sequence in the info box must be repeated as well when it can fire again. This mechanism is as it is for good reasons as will be explained below. Actions are accomplished by right clicking on the target hex or unit
These mechanics make sense given the sequence of play. Since the pre-game and reinforcement segments only are relevant if the scenario designer has allowed players the ability to make initial placements, players’ turns, representing two minutes of real time, begins with the administrative segment. Here, the computer automatically checks to see if broken units rally and if damaged weapons are repaired; players can only sacrifice virgins to the randomizer and wait, although a future patch will allow squads to exchange support weapons if players choose. The first player then, after leader command checks, can fire on visible targets. Quality of fire depends on the four levels of experience ranging from elite to conscript. The LOS tool should be turned on from either the Tilleresque tool bar or the menu bar. Squads can be fired individually or with other units in the hex with leaders directing fire. Weapons like medium machine guns, on-board ordinance and anti-tank guns are fired separately. These options allow basic infantry tactics like fire-and-move, overwatch and bounding overwatch.
Vehicles can also open up with their main armament, coaxial and bow machine guns as well as anti-aircraft machine guns if the turret hatch is open. Tanks and turretless support vehicles can choose their ammunition. Tank turrets can traverse but turretless vehicles must change hull direction to change weapon arcs. Weapons have a chance to maintain rate-of-fire for shots just as they have a chance to malfunction. Hits on infantry can result in cowering, pinned, broken, broken+ (less chance of rally) and elimination. Targeted vehicles can be stunned, unknown, immobilized or eliminated. All these results affect fire and movement.
Off-board artillery has a different mechanism. After selecting a target, players select a radio to make a radio contact. If contact is made, battery contact is attempted and, if successful, the next turn will see rounds fall according to any shift in shell’s flight. A failed radio contact simply shuts the radio down for that turn but two failed battery contacts makes that battery inaccessible for the rest of the game. Empty hexes cannot be targeted so players must hope the target doesn’t move or that another enemy wanders into the blast zone.
The next segment is movement where the unusual unit selection makes sense. Selected units that didn’t fire move hex by hex and are subject to interdiction fire while moving. Thus, a unit that has taken fire should be re-selected if more movement is desired. Re-selection also allows a stack to be split and units in the hex to take different cover if fire becomes too close. Leaders increase the possible distance for movement. Infantry movement can be regular, double time and the slow assault move. Vehicle movement is more involved. The vehicle must be started moving forward or backward via buttons in the segment panel. The hull can be turned using similar buttons and tank turrets also can be swiveled independently. More buttons can have the crew “button up” or open the hatch although that operation ends the move. At the end of a move, vehicles can stop, allowing for better shots, or be kept in move status, giving the more protection. Moving into structures or trees can bog down vehicles. An understated tool for movement is the LOS check. Entering the coordinates of a hex the player may move to and the coordinates of a possible enemy will indicate if that hex is safe.
The second player can have units that didn’t fire interdiction attack visible enemies in the defensive fire segment. The advancing fire segment allows the first player’s unit that moved to fire at reduced effectiveness. The ensuing rout segment has both sides move broken units away from the enemy and into cover. If such a move is impossible, the unit is eliminated.
After the rout segments, the first player’s infantry can advance one hex. Such a move can put a unit in an enemy hex. This melee is resolved in the close combat segment or can continue in the next turn. After close combat, this sequence begins again with the second player starting the segments. The turn ends after the second close combat segment. Scenarios range from seven to ten turns with longer campaigns in the making. Depending on the designer, victory depends on holding certain hexes, casualty ratios or both.
The element that will give this game “long legs” will be the easy but powerful editor and the fact that modding seems simple. Already, almost one hundred user-made scenarios are available as well as mods that expand on graphics. As thousands of Advanced Squad Leader board scenarios exist online to serve as templates, few games can approach the possibilities of replay opportunities.
After getting accustomed to the play sequence and multiple clicks, players will find Tigers on the Hunt an exciting game that captures the essence of Advanced Squad Leader without slavishly copying it. Other games on the same topic may be as good and be more modern but gamers who wish to experience a classic game with a tough AI or a simple PBEM routine should get this game immediately.
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. He is adjunct faculty at Cardinal Stritch University.