Classic Computer Game Review: ‘Crusade in Europe’

The U.S. 1st Infantry Division – the “Big Red One” – receives its first orders on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse Software/Atari via Steam

Crusade in Europe (1985)

Genre: War/Strategy/Historical Simulation

Setting: World War II, Northwest Europe Campaign (D-Day through Ardennes Counteroffensive, 1944-1945)

Designed by: Sid Meier and Ed Bever, Ph.D

Publisher: MicroProse Software, Inc.

Note that although the game was published in the fall of 1985, the copyright on the title screen is (C) 1986. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In 1985, MicroProse Software, Inc. published Crusade in Europe[1], a World War II-themed strategy game that allows you to play the role of a theater commander – either for the Allies or the Germans – during the campaign in Northwest Europe of 1944-1945. Designed by MicroProse co-founder Sid Meier (Sid Meier’s Civilization) and Ed Bever, Crusade in Europe was the first of three titles in MicroProse’s You Are in Command (AKA Command Series) collection; the other two titles were Decision in the Desert (1985) and Conflict in Vietnam (1986).  

As the game manual’s introduction states:

CRUSADE IN EUROPE is a command-level simulation of the climactic campaign of World War II, the battle for France and the Low Countries during the summer and fall of 1944.

Scenarios include the battle for Normandy from the D-Day landings to the liberation of Paris, the Allies’ race to the German frontier, history’s largest airborne assault: Operation Market-Garden, the desperate German counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge, and a campaign game. Most of the scenarios include a number of variants that take different amounts of time to play or explore alternatives to the historical situation.

The title sequence was clearly inspired by the opening scene of the 1970 war movie Patton. I like it, but one thing bothers me; June 5, 1944, fell on a Monday. D-Day, June 6, was on a Tuesday. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Designed and programmed for several platforms with at least 48K of memory and an external floppy drive, including Atari, Apple, Commodore 64, and IBM PCs, Crusade in Europe is a digital version of traditional map-and-counters board games that can be played by one player against the computer or two players in “hotseat” mode.

“What is the Objective, Sir?”

A screen shot of my Steam games library. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

In Crusade in Europe, you are the theater commander for either the Allied Expeditionary Force (comprised primarily of American, British, and Canadian units, although French, Belgian, Polish, and Dutch units are available in some scenarios) or the German Wehrmacht) during the first six months of the campaign in Northwest Europe – from June 6, 1944, to mid-January of 1945. Each side has certain victory conditions to achieve to win, usually reflecting the historical circumstances of the time.

For many years after I played Crusade in Europe, MicroProse was my go-to computer game publishing company.

If you are playing as the Allies, your mission is to destroy the German army in Western Europe and liberate German-occupied France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, with an emphasis on capturing and holding specific locations that will earn Victory Points for your side. In most cases, the Allied armies will be on the offensive, although there will be times when your forces will need to be in a defensive posture.

A YouTube video by user Squakenet featuring the game’s opening and some gameplay.

If you are playing as the Germans, your mission is to hold on to the territory under your control in Festung Europa (“Fortress Europe”) and inflict as many losses as possible on the Allied side. Ideally, in the Normandy scenario you will use your forces to contain the Anglo-American armies to a small beachhead and prevent them from breaking out into the open countryside and liberating cities such as Caen, Cherbourg, Rennes, and, of course, Paris.

Scenarios and Variants

The Scenario Selection screen from Crusade in Europe. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Crusade in Europe is set during the first six months of the Allied campaigns to liberate Europe from the forces of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. For the player’s convenience, designers Sid Meier and Ed Bever divided Crusade in Europe into four scenarios, each one based on a specific geographically-focused campaign, starting with the initial D-Day landings on the Normandy coast and ending with the fierce German counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest – better known to Americans as the “Battle of the Bulge.”

There is a fifth “grand campaign” scenario, Crusade: The Battle for France, that covers the period between early June and late October of 1944.

Additionally, Meier and Bever added “what-if” variants to each scenario. These “alternative history” variants are based on actual Allied and German plans that were proposed at the planning stage of major operations but were not implemented.

The scenarios in Crusade in Europe are:

  1. D-Day and the Normandy Campaign
  2. Race to the Rhine
  3. Operation Market-Garden: “A Bridge Too Far”
  4. The Battle of The Bulge
  5. Crusade: The Battle for France (the “grand campaign” scenario)

Note: Each scenario, except for Crusade, has between one and five variants. The Normandy scenario, for instance, has five variants, two of which are speculative “what-if” cases centered on possible German reactions to the D-Day landings.

Players can adjust the game’s speed, difficulty level, and even the amount of information on the enemy in the Options page. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

The first of these, Rommel’s Strategy, depicts a situation under which the Allies land on Normandy as planned but are confronted by German panzer divisions deployed close to the invasion beaches according to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s preferred plan. In reality, Rommel’s scheme was overruled by his superior, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who insisted that the panzers be held in reserve away from the coast – and out of range of the Allied navies’ guns – and used in a counterattack in a place and time more advantageous to the Germans. The final decision was made by Adolf Hitler, and it was a compromise that pleased neither of his commanders in the West; Rommel would be allowed to have one panzer division – the 21st – near Caen, but the panzer reserves could not be sent to Normandy without Hitler’s personal authorization.

The second variant, German Quick Reaction, depicts the Battle of Normandy with the initial German troop dispositions as they were in reality, but units that were stationed at the Pas de Calais waiting for a second Allied invasion at the narrowest section of the English Channel are released early when German intelligence discovers the truth about Operation Fortitude.

Crusade in Europe provides players with all the information they need so they can make decisions and issue orders to the various units. Here, I was checking the status of the 1st Infantry Division before it hits the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Race for the Rhine and Operation Market-Garden have the fewest variants; Race to the Rhine has the “long” and “short” versions – the situation of the “pursuit” phase of operations was so fluid that it makes no sense to delve into “what-ifs.” Here, the Allied player can try to determine which approach would have worked better: a “narrow front” thrust north of the Ardennes as proposed by British commander Field Marshal Bernard “Monty” Montgomery, or Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “broad front” strategy, which is the one that was “historically correct.”

A PDF version of the game manual; here we see the colorful color map insert that was the centerpiece of the printed edition. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

As for Operation Market-Garden, which was immortalized in Cornelius Ryan’s best-selling book A Bridge Too Far and its 1977 film adaptation, there are two variants; the historical Market-Garden and a “what-if” scenario called Drive on the Ruhr, which is based on an earlier version of a combined arms attack on the German city of Wesel, near the Rhine River. This risky plan was not adopted because Allied intelligence estimated that the enemy’s antiaircraft defenses would decimate the troop transports and glider. Instead, Montgomery, who was pushing for his narrow-thrust strategy, opted for Market-Garden instead.

The Battle of the Bulge has multiple scenarios, including one based on the real situation as of December 16, 1944, plus several “what-if” situations that include Hitler’s Dream – a depiction of the German counterattack as planned by the Fuhrer himself, as well as real – but not implemented – plans concocted by the generals who were tasked to conceive and execute Operation Autumn Mist.

(In all, there are 14 variants in Crusade in Europe, including historical and alternative scenarios.)

“Do I Need to Go to West Point to Play This?”

The handy insert in the game manual included a Terrain Key and a guide to the various Unit Types graphics. No, they were not much to look at compared to the graphics in Strategic Command, but that’s beside the point. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

COMMAND SERIES simulations can be played by one player against the computer or by two players, head-to-head against one another. Either way they are fast-moving and easy-to-play while including a wealth of detail and historical realism. Play balance can be adjusted so that players ranging from beginners to expert strategists will find the computer to be a comfortably challenging opponent. Furthermore, two players of widely differing abilities can play a satisfying game against each other! – Game Manual, Crusade in Europe

Like many MicroProse games – especially those that were programmed for 1980s computers that used DOS or had between 64K and 128K of random-access memory (RAM) – Crusade in Europe seems like a complex game but is easy to play. As the game manual writers put it:

Although this simulation is incredibly sophisticated, it is amazingly simple to play! The computer takes care of all calculations, enforces the rules, traces supply lines, keeps track of casualties and supply levels, implements your commands, and informs you of the results. This puts you in the position of a real commander, free to concentrate on formulating a strategic plan and directing your forces to implement it.

Let’s say, for instance, that you choose the first – and shortest – scenario of the game, the Battle of Normandy: Clearing the Beaches. Once you adjust your game session preferences, such as player side, level of intelligence information available, game play balance to make Crusade in Europe easier or harder to win against, and game speed, you’ll see a map with military symbols already in their initial positions.

Units, Terrain, and Logistics

Here’s a shot of a map seen in Terrain-only mode. Hit the T utility command and the game removes all the unit markers to reveal the terrain features. Here we see Normandy, or part of it. You can see the Bay of the Seine to the north, the swamps in the flooded areas in the Cotentin Peninsula (the western flank of the invasion area) and the various rivers (including the Orne) east and northeast of Caen on the eastern flank. You can also see the green patchwork that represents the hedgerows of the bocage country. Hills are rendered in fuchsia, and towns and cities are denoted as black patches. The hedgerows and rivers helped the Germans in their efforts to slow the Allied advance, but they did not prevent the liberation of France; they only delayed it. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

You’ll see a wide array of terrain features that range from flat, easily traversable ground and roads to movement-restrictive swamps, hedgerows (the dreaded bocage that slowed down the Allies in Normandy), rivers, hills, and fortified cities. You’ll also note that there are unit icons that represent two opposing sides; German forces are denoted by black icons, American and French units under U.S. command are green, and British, Canadian, and other Allied units under nominal British command are red. The symbols themselves can be rendered as either traditional NATO icons or simplified sprites to identify unit types. The simplified sprites tend to be easier to interpret – an infantry unit is shown as a soldier in a firing position, an armored unit is shown as a tank, and an airborne unit is shown as a parachute.

First-time players might prefer the simple icons, but they often convey less information than the NATO-style symbols. This is especially true of German units; in addition to the three basic types of units noted above, German armies in 1944-1945 also include SS panzer and panzergrenadier divisions. In the case of the latter, they’re easy to identify because the sprite looks like a halftrack vehicle. But in “sprite mode,” you can’t tell an SS Panzer division from a regular army one unless you put your cursor on it and identify it with the SPACE bar. The same goes for Germany’s static infantry divisions, which were created solely to defend fortified cities and other defensive locations and were not high-quality combat units. Their NATO symbol is a solid black rectangle, while regular infantry formations are the classic rectangles-with-X’s.

This is a screenshot of a session I played when Crusade in Europe was available only as a play-on-your-browser abandonware game. It recently became available on Steam for $6.99.

The average combat unit size in Crusade in Europe is the division. A division can be as large as 20,000 men, as some British infantry divisions depicted in the game, or as small as 10,000 men, like most German static infantry and Allied airborne divisions. There are a few smaller combat units, such as the Germans’ 6th Parachute Infantry Regiment or the Allies’ 1st Polish Airborne Brigade. However, divisions are the dominant formation because of the game’s scale. The maps in the game are large, but their scale does not allow players to see the war at the purely tactical level.

Remember, you are not playing the role of a battalion or regimental commander issuing commands to individual tanks or small units. You are a theater commander, where if you must see the war in Big Picture terms. Crusade in Europe is a computerized version of moving unit markers on a map, and you must make decisions based on the information filtering to your HQ from the lower echelons of command.

The humble supply depot. Guard it with at least one good combat unit – your army’s existence depends on it! (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

There are three support units with their own symbols: headquarters, supply depots, and air wings. Headquarters (HQs) and supply depots are common to both sides, while air wings are unique to the Allies. HQs and depots are crucial to the logistics aspect of Crusade in Europe because that’s how the game distributes the ammunition, fuel, and food that units need to even exist.  

Unlike many modern games about World War II that are so intricately detailed that you almost need to attend a military academy to play them – I am looking at you, Gary Grigsby’s War in the WestCrusade in Europe’s depiction of logistics is stripped to the very basics. All you need to do is make sure your HQs and supply depots are well protected by combat units and that units can trace what is called an “unimpeded line of supply.”

At the end of each “day” – after 11:30 PM – in accelerated real-time, the game automatically distributes supplies according to each scenario’s specific allotment. Units that do not have obstructed supply lines receive one days’ worth of food, fuel, and ammo. But if units are beyond the 120-mile radius of a headquarters unit, or if their lines of communication are blocked by enemy units or poor terrain, they can’t be resupplied. This reduces unit effectiveness and makes a division, regiment, or brigade vulnerable to enemy attack. Heck, even if a unit is unmolested by enemy units but remains isolated, it eventually loses the ability to move or defend itself and must surrender.

It’s always good to identify which town or city has Victory Points that add to your final score. Of course, you can’t just win by gaining VPs; you need to destroy the enemy army and grab other geographical locations to keep your line of supply clear and unimpeded. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

As noted earlier, Crusade in Europe is designed to make gameplay easy. All you need to remember is a quartet of Action Commands – M for Move; A for Attack; D for Defend, and R for Reserve.

How do you issue commands?

ACTION COMMANDS The four action commands are used to tell a unit what type of activity to perform. The four commands are MOVE, ATTACK, DEFEND, and (go into) RESERVE.

(1)  A unit ordered to MOVE will prepare to move to another position on the map. In some scenarios Allied airborne units can use “jump” moves in which they move directly from their present position to any other location on the map (see Section III, Part K and the individual scenarios in Section V). All other units move one hex at a time. A unit’s ability to move normally is affected by terrain, inhibited by adjacent enemy units, and blocked by any unit directly in its path (although it may, of course, be able to move around it). “Jump” moves are made without regard to these constraints; the airborne unit will simply disappear from its present location and appear in the objective hex as a single move.

(2) A unit ordered to ATTACK will seek to initiate combat with an enemy unit. A ground unit must be adjacent to the enemy in order to ATTACK; an air unit can ATTACK any enemy unit within the radius of its range (90 miles).

 (3) A unit ordered to DEFEND will prepare to resist enemy attacks. An air unit DEFENDS as if it were a ground unit.

 (4) A unit ordered into RESERVE will recover from the effects of combat. It can also be moved long distances most quickly. In order to issue one of these orders to a unit, place the cursor over it. The command can then be entered either via the joystick or the keyboard. To use the joystick, press the trigger once, which will bring up the unit’s status report, and then press it again, which will bring up a menu of action commands. Use the joystick to move up or down to the appropriate line, and then press the trigger for a third time. To use the keyboard, simply press the appropriate key (“M” for MOVE, “A” for ATTACK, “D” for DEFEND, and “R” for RESERVE).

Note that a unit that is doing one thing will need time before it will begin to undertake a new activity. When using the joystick, the order CANCEL will exit the menu without changing the unit’s current orders.

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

2. THE OBJECTIVE COMMAND

The objective command assigns a unit that has been issued an action command to a location on the map as its objective. A ground unit will attempt to move to the designated location and perform the activity specified by the action command; an air unit assigned to ATTACK will do so without moving if the target is within range.

A unit that has been issued an action command can be assigned an objective simply by moving the cursor to the location desired and either pressing the joystick trigger or pressing “H” (for HERE, as in “MOVE… HERE!” or “ATTACK… HERE!”). If there is an enemy unit in the objective, the joystick trigger must be pressed TWICE: once to bring up the enemy’s status report, and the second time to designate the hex as the objective. If there is a friendly unit already in the objective, the keyboard command “H” must be used.

 Note that a unit given an action command does not have to be given an objective command. In this case, it will remain in or near its present position, acting when appropriate on its own initiative to carry out the action ordered. A ground unit ordered to ATTACK or DEFEND an objective will move to it to do so but will move more slowly than if it were ordered to MOVE.

The lamest screen, in my opinion, is the Strategic Overview. It gives you a quick look at your overall situation and the location of your units and enemy units that intelligence knows about. Green represents American units; red represents Anglo-Canadian units, and black denotes German units. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Conversely, a unit ordered into RESERVE and assigned an objective will move more quickly than if simply told to MOVE. The tradeoff is that the more quickly a unit moves, the longer it will take to prepare for combat and the more vulnerable it will be if attacked. EXAMPLES: If you want the 101st Airborne Division to “Go to Bastogne and hold it!”, you give the unit a DEFEND command and assign Bastogne as the objective. If you want the 1st Infantry Division to assault Omaha Beach, give the unit an ATTACK command and assign Omaha Beach as the objective. If you want the Guards Armored Division to “Get to Arnhem!” give the unit a “MOVE” command and assign Arnhem as the objective. – Game Manual, Crusade in Europe

The game considers such things as weather and time of day. Of course, we don’t see the actual weather on the screen; 1980s computers – at least the ones we used at home – did not have the computing power or graphics to depict weather. But players can see the effects of weather on the conduct of battles. The attacking side – especially the Allies with their air wings – performs better on days when the weather is Clear, but combat efficiency and availability of air support deteriorates incrementally when the weather gets bad. Planes will fly less and be more inefficient in Overcast conditions, and they will not be available – at all – on days when the forecast is Rain or Snow. Bad weather favors the defense because it affects visibility on the battlefield and impedes vehicles – ground, where roads are not present, gets muddy and tanks and other vehicles can’t move easily.

The game changes colors when night becomes day and vice versa. Here, it is still dark on the morning of June 7, 1944. The day starts with good news, the British 50th Infantry Division has just liberated the town of Bayeux. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Also, since the game depicts warfare in late 1944 and early 1945, no airstrikes are available at night, and ground attacks in the hours of darkness are often more costly than attacks carried out in daylight.

Though this sounds awfully complicated, Crusade in Europe is fast-paced and – if you’re a history buff or a war game fan – never boring. The game runs on accelerated real-time, which means that a week of “in-game” goes by in one hour of real-time. The pace is so fast that it is advisable to press the F key to FREEZE the game to give orders to all your units, or to be able to issue new orders in the middle of the battle to respond to changes in the battlefield situation.

Looks Are Not Everything!

Imagine if Crusade in Europe had graphics like 2018’s Strategic Command WWII: World at War. The maps would have to be rescaled so that battles would be in the same division-level scale as in Crusade in Europe, but it would be cool if someone could design a hybrid that mixes this game’s looks with the basic workings of Crusade in Europe. (C) 2018 Fury Software, Slitherine Ltd., and Matrix Games

Of course, Crusade in Europe’s graphics are primitive-looking compared to modern war games. Terrain, unit symbols, and even the maps themselves are not as detailed as those in, say, Hearts of Iron IV or Strategic Command WWII: World at War. You don’t see, for instance, 3D renditions of Allied Sherman tanks duking it out with German Panzer Mk. IVs or the formidable Panther and Tiger tanks of the late war period, nor do you see P-47 Thunderbolts or Hawker Typhoons making strafing runs on hapless columns of German forces making their way to – or retreating desperately from – the battlefields of Normandy.

There’s also not much of a sound palette to place you in the middle of the battle. There is no musical score, nor is there any voice acting. We hear a few rudimentary sound effects to indicate incoming messages, or some random “moving tank” noises when a unit is barreling down a road to its objective.

Call of Duty this is not.

Sure, the graphics are definitely outdated. But the gameplay is still awesome, especially if you don’t want to play a wargame that requires a degree from West Point. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Nevertheless, once you accept that Crusade in Europe is (1) a strategy game that is the digital equivalent of an old-fashioned map board and unit-counters wargame and (2) that it was made in the mid-1980s, a time when even owning a computer was still a novelty, you will enjoy it.

As I said earlier, even though Crusade in Europe emphasizes historical accuracy as far as initial troop deployments, reinforcement schedules, replacement rates, weather and terrain effects, and the importance of supply lines, it is delightfully easy to play. Crusade in Europe is designed to let you refight the campaign in Northwest Europe ­from the beaches of Normandy to the Ardennes forests and come away with some understanding of the strategies involved, but without the mind-boggling complexity of more complex and detailed games like Gary Grigsby’s War in the West.

A view of the battle from the German point of view. Note that German intelligence only has a fix on some of the Allied units. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

I used to play the Apple II version of Crusade in Europe (the game conversion to that platform was made by Jim Synoski) when I was in college. I bought my first copy a few months before I went to Spain in 1988, and I played it on my Apple IIe well into the mid-1990s until my computer’s monitor stopped working.

Even then, I knew the graphics were not so great, but I enjoyed playing the role of a supreme commander – mostly for the Allies; I always feel a bit queasy when I play a World War II as a German because I detest the Third Reich and what it stood for – making life-or-death decisions that will shape the destinies of entire nations. And since the Northwest Europe campaign is my favorite subject to read about when I buy a book about World War II, I liked pitting my strategies against the ones used by the real Ike, Monty, Bradley, and Patton. (Sometimes I made better progress than the real generals, but often I either did as well or – sometimes – not as well as they did. Especially in Normandy, where the terrain, weather, and reinforcement schedules for both sides affected my decision cycles.)

A few years after Crusade in Europe was released, MicroProse was publishing wargames with much better graphics. This is a screengrab from Silent Service II. (C) 1991 MicroProse Softare and Retroism

The original MicroProse closed its doors in the early 2000s after a series of mergers and buyouts, and although it released many games that I loved back in the day (including Red Storm Rising, Silent Service II, and M-1 Tank Platoon), it never did a revamped version of its Command Series games for the PCs of the 1990s and 2000s. And until recently, Crusade in Europe languished in the netherworld of “abandonware,” where it was available as a play-free-on-a-browser game but not available on a legitimate game distribution site like Steam.

Happily, Atari, which owns the rights to many of the “old” MicroProse company’s titles – a game developer and an investor bought the MicroProse brand and opened a new game publishing/development company a couple of years ago – released the three games in the Command Series collection on Steam for $6.99 each. That price was reasonable enough for me to splurge on the trio; I paid $39.99 for Crusade in Europe back in 1988, and that was when it was a state-of-the-art game!

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

As reviewer Rich Moore wrote in Antic, a magazine devoted to video games and all things related to Atari (which also ported Crusade in Europe for its computers) in October of 1985:

Crusade in Europe belongs in every wargamer’s collection. Adventurers who like role-playing games like Ultima III would probably like this one, too. If the other MicroProse Command Series wargames are this good, then the company has a string of winners in its hands. Now, if they’d move the battle to sea…..

Sources: Crusade in Europe game manual, British edition, PDF file

Antic Magazine, review of Crusade in Europe by Rich Moore, October 1985, via Internet Archive


[1] The title takes its inspiration from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s bestselling 1948 memoir about his tour of duty as the general who commanded operations in North Africa, Sicily, southern Italy, and northwest Europe. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and players who take command of the Allied forces in Crusade in Europe are, in essence, standing in for Ike.

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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