Old Gamers Never Die, or: Reliving the Liberation of Europe with MicroProse’s 1987 Classic War Game ‘Crusade in Europe’

A screenshot from a session of Crusade in Europe I played in 2018 on MyAbandonware.com.

Back in the late 1980s, when I was still a journalism student at Miami-Dade Community College in South Florida, I used to go to the nearby Miami International Mall to do a bit of shopping. My favorite places then were Waldenbooks and a software retailer called Babbage’s.[1]

Before 1987, most of my trips to the International Mall were to the former because I was, and still am, a voracious reader. But after the spring of 1987, when I was given my first personal computer by my father’s brother Sixto, I split my attention between Waldenbooks – where I had a Preferred Reader’s card – and Babbage’s.  That’s where I sometimes bought computer games for my Apple IIe computer.

I don’t remember now how many games I acquired for that computer. I kept all of my old floppy discs and manuals as long as that computer worked; I still played Apple II games on it till the color monitor finally gave out around 1997 or so, even though by then I had transitioned to MS-DOS/Windows-based PCs that I used for both work and entertainment. After that, though, I had to discard not just my Apple computer, the monitor, and the Imagewriter dot matrix printer, but the floppy discs and manuals as well.

Here, I try my hand at outdoing Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in Operation Market-Garden: A Bridge Too Far.

I do remember, though, that my favorite game for my first computer was MicroProse Software’s Crusade in Europe, one of three games in the company’s Command Series.[2]

Crusade in Europe was a 1985 strategy game set in Northwest Europe during World War II. It was written by MicroProse’s legendary co-founder Sid Meier and Ed Bever; Jim Sinoski programmed the Apple version, while other programmers developed versions for DOS, Commodore, and Atari computers. It depicted the first six months of the Allied campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation – “from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge!” said the blurb on the package.

The start screen for Crusade in Europe as seen My Abandonware.com
The results of an Allied airstrike against German defenders on D-Day.

A map-and-symbols top-down game with graphics that are primitive by today’s standards, Crusade in Europe featured 5 major campaigns, each of which had at least one “what if?” variant.

The five scenarios in Crusade in Europe were:

  1. The Battle for Normandy
  2. Race for the Rhine
  3. Market Garden: “A Bridge Too Far”
  4. The Battle of the Bulge
  5. Crusade: The Battle for France
The main scenario selection screen in Crusade in Europe.

As I said earlier, even though there are only five major battles, each one had at least two variants, some of which were just “time limit” games that gave players a fixed number of days to achieve specific goals but were historically accurate where reinforcements and starting positions were concerned. Others were “what-if” scenarios based on alternate plans for specific operations, such as “Rommel’s Strategy” in the Normandy campaign or a hypothetical direct assault on the Ruhr rather than on the Arnhem bridge in the Operation Market-Garden scenario.

As was par for the course with MicroProse strategy games, the complexity of the campaigns tended to go from simple tactical situations (such as “Clearing the Beaches” in The Battle for Normandy,” in which you had to capture the five invasion beaches – Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno, and Gold – and then link the Anglo-Canadian beaches with the American ones to create a unified beachhead) to the complicated missions of delaying, and eventually stopping, Hitler’s desperate counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December of 1944.

Crusade in Europe was, like Sid Meier’s earlier NATO Commander, a map-based war game in which division and brigade-sized units move and do battle against each other in “accelerated real time.” It puts players in the role of generals such as Dwight D. Eisenhower (for the Allies) or Gerd von Rundstedt (for the Germans).

 Unlike the 21st Century-era Blitzkrieg series, the game’s depiction of World War II doesn’t show realistic views of the battlefield with trees, farmhouses, villages, and tiny soldiers, tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, or planes.  Rather, things look a bit more abstract:

The basic unit in the game was the division, which ranged in size – depending on unit type and nationality – from 10,000 men (airborne and static infantry) to 20,000 men (some British and Canadian infantry divisions). Reflecting the realities of 1944-era armies, these divisions came in several variants, depending on their battlefield roles.  However, in some scenarios, such as Operation “Market-Garden” or Battle of the Bulge, both sides will field regimental or brigade-sized units. (One of these, the German Sixth Parachute Regiment, makes an appearance in the Normandy campaign.)

The cover art for the game manual.

In the Allied armies, there were three types of division:

  1. Infantry (the most numerous type). The average U.S. infantry division consisted of 15,000 soldiers and 90-100 tanks. Crusade in Europe doesn’t list artillery or other vehicles in the status screens, so you have to imagine that those pieces of military hardware are there; you just don’t see them.
  2. Armored. Not as numerous as infantry divisions, these tank-heavy units are still key components in the fast-moving mobile warfare waged by the Allied armies in Northwest Europe. They have less manpower than infantry divisions (12,800 men, 200-300 tanks), but once the Allies break out of the Bocage area of Normandy and into the open country, these divisions move fast and hit hard. 
  3. Airborne. The least numerous units in Crusade in Europe are the airborne divisions fielded by the British and American armies in Northwest Europe. Essentially elite and highly mobile light infantry outfits with no heavy equipment, they have an average of 10,000 men and no tanks. Airborne units are usually already “on the ground” at the start of scenarios such as Operation “Market-Garden” and  Battle for Normandy, but in Race for the Rhine the three airborne divisions made famous by A Bridge Too Far are based in England and can make a “jump move” on September 17, 1944, the real-life D-Day for Market-Garden. 

The Allies also have a unique air unit called the Tactical Air Wing. In Crusade in Europe, Allied commanders could, depending on which scenario being played, call air strikes on German units from an average of four Tactical Air Wings (the U.S. IX and XIX, and the British 83rd and 84th Air Groups). Each air wing is listed as having complements of 3500 men and 350-400 fighter-bombers. 

Air units are powerful, but they can only fly during the daylight hours and in relatively good weather. The effect of air strikes varies; depending on the targeted enemy unit’s mode at the time of the attack, air wings can inflict serious, moderate, or minimal damage to troops and tanks on the ground. 

Moreover, the attacking units can suffer heavy casualties if they attack an enemy unit that is in “deployed,” “defense,” or “fortified” mode; attacking German units that are in “mobile” mode or have been cut off and out of supplies often minimizes casualties, but early in a campaign this is a rare occurrence.

German units also come in the three basic varieties, but Crusade in Europe depicts other units that reflect the state of the Wehrmacht in 1944. These are:

  1. Static Infantry/Luftwaffe Ground Divisions. These were defense-oriented divisions made up either of second-rate troops or German Air Force ground personnel which were made “surplus” by the declining fortunes of Hermann Goering’s once-mighty air fleets. 
  2. SS Panzer Divisions
  3. SS Panzergrenadier Divisions, which were essentially infantry units equipped with half-tracks and/or trucks
  4. Volksgrenadier Divisions, which were reconstituted infantry units built upon the remnants of divisions battered in the summer battles in France and Belgium

Both sides have Supply Depots and Headquarters units, which handle the distribution of supplies for the combat units on the field. 

I’m not going to go into a more detailed description of the game here; suffice it to say that players had to master the basic concepts of modern warfare, albeit in a user-friendly and extremely simplified fashion. Basically, though, no matter which side one chose to play as, one had to learn how to use terrain, road networks, river lines, weather, and supply lines in both attack and defense.

The beautiful thing about MicroProse’s Crusade in Europe (which derived its title from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1948 war memoirs) is that while the game’s concepts were complex, the gameplay was relatively easy. 

(C) 1985 MicroProse Software

For instance, to issue orders to every unit during a turn, all a player had to do was move the cursor with the keyboard’s directional arrow keys, place the cursor on a unit, and hit the SPACE bar to check the unit’s status. If, say, the U.S. 4th Infantry Division was at 80% effectiveness and in “deployed” mode, all one had to do was hit a “command” key (say, A for “attack” or M for “move”), move the cursor to a destination (usually an enemy unit or a location such as Cherbourg or Caen), then press the H key for “Here.”

Here, the Allies (green and red icons) have cleared the five invasion beaches and formed a lodgement area in Normandy.

The game’s artificial intelligence would then take into account obstacles in the selected unit’s immediate vicinity – terrain features, friendly and enemy units, and roads or rivers, then pick the best path to the unit’s objective. If all went well, the selected unit would go from Point A to Point B in a satisfactory manner. If not….well, as William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “war is all hell.” 

I’ve been a World War II buff since I was six years old, so when I bought this game in 1987 I was thrilled. Not only was Crusade in Europe historically accurate (reinforcements arrive on the scene on the dates they actually arrived during the various campaigns), but MicroProse’s programmers made it easy to learn and fun to master. From late 1987 to 1994, I played Crusade in Europe at increasing levels of difficulty as both the Allied and German commander, though I have to admit that I preferred to play as the Allies. Despite the limitations of its graphics (it was only a 200 Kb game, after all), I only stopped playing because my Apple IIe monitor died on me after seven years of constant use.

I no longer have an Apple IIe computer, and no software company has ever bothered to create a map-based game like it, but happily, Crusade in Europe still exists as a playable game and can be downloaded for free in various websites, including My Abandonware (www.myabandonware.com). I haven’t downloaded it, but I play it online from my browser. 

[1][1] In the late 1990s, after a series of mergers and corporate changes, the company changed names at least three times. It’s now called GameStop.

[2] The other two games were Decision in the Desert, a simulation of the North African campaigns of 1940-1942, and Conflict in Vietnam, which featured a selection of battles from the French and American wars in Vietnam from 1954 to 1972.

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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