Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 06/17/02 | Genre: Strategy
The struggle to maintain realism in wargames has always been a difficult one. Noone expects too much of it from titles such as Axis and Allies, or Starcraft. But true wargames are expected to balance realism and playability, and this is no easy task. After "realistic" wargames migrated to the PC in the mid 90's, developers had to learn that much more work was required than board game translation. Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem is just such a game. It follows the Allies ambitious plan to use airborne troops to seize key bridges behind the German lines. The intention of Operation Market Garden was to open a hole for an allied offensive to drive across the Rhine River at Arnhem.
Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem is the latest title from Battlefront.com, a company that made its breakthrough hit with Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord. The company has a steep reputation of delivering playable and historically accurate wargames. The event of Operation Market Garden unfold before the player as a German or Allied commander as they wield their forces to thwart the opposition. The level of detail in the game is staggering. Every unit that could have served in the Arnhem operation is listed. Unit information included roster of equipment, from self-propelled anti-tank guns to BAR rifles. The in-game history is quite beneficial to the educational experience of the game as unit, commander, and battle history is readily available.
The battle unfolds in real time with the option to pause the action and issue orders at anytime. There are multiple ways to control your assets. A player can choose to take command of his units at different organization levels, which puts a great deal of trust in the friendly AI. Anyone who does not like the nitty-gritty of the battle has the opportunity to give orders to a higher command and let them direct their subordinates. On the converse, a detailed oriented player can choose to get down in the details of artillery support and unit control. I found the game to be easy to control once I learned the basic attack, and movement orders. The learning curve was not severe but it will take most players some time to learn how to fight correctly. This involves such tactics as supporting infantry assaults with artillery and might represent the biggest challenge to any new player.
Panther Games was able to reverse a typical negative for historical games that manifests in re-playability. The game comes complete with "ScenMaker", which allows players to create their own scenarios and alter the game in a variety of ways. Allied troops can also have a random setup to reflect the changing drop patterns of the paratroopers. With that being said, the enemy AI in the game is very well done. The enemy troops, especially with the altering scenarios, do not fail as a worthy opponent. Multiplayer gaming options are also available for those who have the need to squish their friends in brain combat. All the elements of a great wargame are there, and allow the player decide what role to play in all of it. I am just happy to see that real manuals have not gone out of style. The game comes will a fully printed book that features everything you will need to play.
The game board is actually based on a historical map from 1944 created by the Geographical Section General Staff. The layout of the game may be familiar to some and seem old fashioned to others. It is based on the "chit" system common to the old Avalon Hill wargame, which was basically a thin square of paper with some information on it. It makes for an excellent war game design but lacks much of the flair that draws in some gamers. Do not be deceived though, Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem was not crush your graphics card's capability but present a historical accurate and entertaining wargame. Historically, the battle went very badly for the Allied paratroopers but remains one of the great "What-ifs" of World War Two in Europe.