Old Gamers Never Die: A First Look at ‘Armored Brigade’

TITLE: Armored Brigade
GENRE: Simulation, Strategy
DEVELOPER: Veitikka Studios
PUBLISHER: Slitherine Ltd./Matrix Games
FRANCHISE: Armored Brigade
RELEASE DATE: Nov 15, 2018

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

As someone who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War (1946-1991) and can still remember that the present Russian Federation was one of 16 “republics” in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), I have long been fascinated by this strange “war in peacetime” that was part of the geopolitical scene for my childhood and a good chunk of my adult life.

Because I was a “Cold War kid,” I tried to put the possibility of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union in the back of my mind – no one, at any age, likes to think of death under most circumstances; the prospect of near-certain nuclear annihilation or living in a post-atomic horror is particularly unpleasant, so I only dwelled on the possibility that the Cold War might turn hot when a sudden crisis – such as communist Poland imposing martial law in 1980 after a labor strike by the illegal (at the time) Solidarity workers’ movement in Gdansk or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – erupted somewhere in the world between the late 1970s and August of 1991.

At the same time, I’ve been fascinated with militaria (whether it’s military tech or military history) since I was a boy. This included a keen interest in certain topics, such as Soviet military power, the strengths (and weaknesses) of the Western armed forces, especially those that were active members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and, of course, the tools of the trade of war, including aircraft, tanks, armored personnel carriers, warships, and small arms of all types.

This is what the game’s Steam Store page looks like.

So it should not be surprising that as much as I dreaded an armed confrontation that pitted the United States and NATO against the USSR and its vassals in the Warsaw Pact, part of me gravitated toward books, movies, and even war games that imagined what would happen if the Cold War suddenly escalated into World War III.

So when I started gaming on personal computers during my college years  – first on my Apple IIe, then later on DOS- and Windows-based machines – I played games along the lines of MicroProse’s NATO Commander, M-1 Tank Platoon, Red Storm Rising, and F-117A Nighthawk: Stealth Fighter 2.0. (I also played the less stellar Apple IIe version of Avalon Hill’s computer version of Gulf Strike, a simulation of a U.S.-led response to a Soviet invasion of Iran, which was great in theory but had not-so-great graphics and wasn’t as easy to learn as MicroProse’s NATO Commander.)

If you’re a regular reader of either this blog or its older (banned-on-Facebook) Blogger counterpart A Certain Point of View, you know that I have written about a few Cold War-turned-hot games that I have purchased on Steam since I moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 2016. These include:

  • Cold Waters, a submarine simulation created and published in 2017 by Killerfish Games and a spiritual successor to MicroProse’s 1988 classic, Red Storm Rising
  • Flashpoint Campaign: Red Storm, a 2014 map-and-counters tactical level game developed by On Target Games and published by Matrix
  • F-117A Nighthawk: Stealth Fighter 2.0. originally created in 1991 by MicroProse Labs as a revised version of the 1989 game F-19 Stealth Fighter and reissued by Tommo/Retroism a few years ago

The latest addition to my modest collection of World War III-themed games is Finnish-based Veitikka Studios/Matrix Games’ Armored Brigade, a top-down map-and-unit symbols simulation of – what else? – land combat in Europe between the Eastern and Western blocs in battles that are set in different time periods within the timeframe of the historical Cold War.

Here’s what the developers have to say about Armored Brigade in the game’s website:

Overview:

Focusing on delivering a realistic, authentic command experience, Armored Brigade is a tactical war game focusing on combined arms operations set against the background of a Cold War gone hot. With possible engagements dates ranging from 1965 to 1991, Armored Brigade combines gritty realism with challenging gameplay as the West and East collide in a spectacular fashion across massive battlefields.

The game has drawn inspiration from classics such as Steel Panthers, Close Combat and Combat Mission.

Main features:

  • Real-time engine
  • Time period: 1965-1991
  • Factions: US, USSR, West and East Germany, UK, Finland and Poland
  • DLC factions: Italy, Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Netherlands
  • Campaign and battle generators for unlimited replayability
  • Lowest level unit is a single team/vehicle
  • Dynamic AI
  • Huge maps, based on real terrain. The maximum battle size is about 15×15 kilometers
  • Neutral units
  • Artillery with several munition types
  • Close air support, air defences. Air-to-air engagements are possible
  • Fortifications, obstacles and breaching
  • Dynamic time of day and variable visibility, wind and ground conditions
  • Night vision equipment, smoke generators, illumination flares
  • Unit morale, training level and fatigue, command delay
  • A database editor for the factions, units, weapons etc.
  • 3D sound engine
Here is a screengrab from the pre-battle map of the most recent engagement I played.

Because this a “first look” post and not a review of Armored Brigade, I am not going to get too much into the details of the game. I will, however, give you some first impressions about it.

First, I like how Armored Brigade tries to give players a multitude of scenarios that take place within the last 25 years of the Cold War. This not only adds diversity to the game, but it also lets you examine how a Third World War might have played out with the weapons and tactics available to both sides in, say, 1965. Then, of course, the Soviets did not have T-72 or T-80 main battle tanks; the most modern tank they would have fielded in an invasion of West Germany would have been the T-62 or variants of that model. The Mi-24 Hind helicopter would still be seven years away from its introduction to the USSR’s arsenal, and the BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle would not be around in ’65 either.

Other scenarios are set in the 1980s, a time in which the M1 Abrams tank is still new and not deployed in large numbers, so most of the U.S. tanks are still variants of the venerable M-60 Patton that were the mainstay of the U.S. Army’s heavy divisions during the first Reagan Administration. The Soviets now have BMPs and Mi-24s as well as the T-72 main battle tank, so it’s really a challenge for a player commanding the U.S. force at a time when the Americans use a mix of “old” tech and “new” in the pre-1991 scenarios.

Refreshingly, Armored Brigade doesn’t just pit the U.S. against the Soviets in its many scenarios. There are West Germans vs. East Germans battles, West Germans vs. Poles battles, British vs. Soviets, and even Finns vs. Soviets scenarios.

Furthermore, even though the game incorporates the mouse-point-and-click commands feature from Close Combat, I find that Armored Brigade is easier to play in that regard because (a) you can pause the game to give your orders or change them if – as often happens in real battle due to what is called “fog of war” – your units run into unexpected enemy forces en route to a waypoint on the battle map and you have to adjust your plan accordingly. Obviously real-life commanders can’t hit a “pause” button in the middle of a battle, and there are games where you can’t pause in the middle of a turn, but I think this is why Armored Brigade is a bit easier to manage than one of the Close Combat games.

Furthermore, even though the game incorporates the mouse-point-and-click commands feature from Close Combat, I find that Armored Brigade is easier to play in that regard because (a) you can pause the game to give your orders or change them if – as often happens in real battle due to what is called “fog of war” – your units run into unexpected enemy forces en route to a waypoint on the battle map and you have to adjust your plan accordingly. Obviously real-life commanders can’t hit a “pause” button in the middle of a battle, and there are games where you can’t pause in the middle of a turn, but I think this is why Armored Brigade is a bit easier to manage than one of the Close Combat games.

Although the game does not have impressive 3-D fully-animated video, it does give the player a good wargaming experience. As I said earlier, Armored Brigade is a map-and-symbols game reminiscent of NATO Commander but depicts combined-arms warfare at the battalion or company-size level rather than at the operational (division-size) level.

Veitikka Studios did a great job with the design of Armored Brigade (especially the sound and the enemy AI) and its balance between realism (units have a “lag” between the time they receive an order and the time they execute it, and this delay is determined by such factors as distance, line-of-sight, terrain, and enemy jamming of signals) and playability. I have even won some complicated engagements even though I’m still learning how to play Armored Brigade.

This is an interesting and challenging war game, and I give Armored Brigade a wholehearted recommendation.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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