Why I Love ‘Crusade in Europe’ & Other Musings
Hello there, and welcome to another installment of Old Gamers Never Die, an occasional series in which I write about the computer games I play and – more often than not – love. Today I’m continuing my look at Crusade in Europe, one of the first strategy wargames I played back in the late 1980s. But before I get to that, I have a bit of related news.
One out of three ain’t bad….
If you read my recent review of Crusade in Europe, you’ll recall that it was one of the three Command Series games published by the original iteration of MicroProse between 1985 and 1986. The other two titles, Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam, were conceived by Crusade’s designers Sid Meier and Ed Bever, and although they depict campaigns in other parts of the world and at different points in time, they have many of the same features, especially in graphic design and gameplay.
Although the Command Series was well-received by reviewers and wargame aficionados, MicroProse never made “new and improved” versions of the games like it did for F-15 Strike Eagle, Silent Service, Sid Meier’s Civilization, or F-19 Stealth Fighter. I don’t know if it was because the folks that ran MicroProse decided to focus on more action-oriented – and visually striking – aircraft and combat vehicle simulators, or if the Command Series just didn’t sell as many units as the other games MicroProse developed or published in the 1980s and 1990s.
Until January 2022, the Command Series trilogy was “out-of-print” (OOP), and since there were no sequels or official reissues until then, the only way you could play Crusade, Decision in the Desert, or Conflict in Vietnam was on play-on-the-browser sites such as MyAbandonware.com, which is where, as I like to say, games that their intellectual-property owners ignore go to die.
I owned all three games in the Command Series, although I played Crusade in Europe more than Decision in the Desert or Conflict in Vietnam. As a military history buff, I was interested in the World War II campaigns in North Africa, and the Vietnam War cast its long shadow over my childhood even though it did not touch me directly. And I enjoyed Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam when I booted them up on my Apple IIe. But since the Normandy campaign is the one that never fails to fascinate me, Crusade in Europe was primus inter pares among the three games.
I mention all of this because when I bought Crusade in Europe on Steam earlier this week, I also ordered Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam. Atari, the company that owns the rights to many of the original MicroProse’s titles, had – finally – reissued those old games after giving them a few tweaks to make them compatible with Windows 10 and 11.
Sadly, although Crusade in Europe works well – not perfectly, mind you, but it works – the other two wargames do not. Both Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam crashed shortly after I opened them from my computer’s laptop every time that I wanted to play. Not once. Not twice. But every freaking time.
Reluctantly, I went to my Steam account and asked that both games be removed from my Games library and that my credit card payment be refunded. I described the problem briefly but honestly, and this morning I received an email from Steam informing me that my refund request was approved and processed.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post
When I was a preadolescent boy growing up – first in Bogota, Colombia, then later in Miami, Florida – I often dreamed about having a military career. Of course, this was unrealistic; I have cerebral palsy and never had a real shot at joining any of the armed forces. But even though I came to terms with this and followed the writer’s path instead, my interest in military history remained, and it manifests itself in the books that I read and the games I play. In short, if I can’t be an officer in the Army or travel back in time to witness first-hand the landings at Normandy or the airborne drops of Operation Market-Garden, I can relive them in books, documentaries, and computer simulations.
This, Dear Reader, is the underlying reason for my love of Crusade in Europe. Most of the books about World War II in my library are about the Allied campaigns in Northwest Europe from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge. Some, like Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day or Antony Beevor’s Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944, focus on specific battles which were fought between June 6, 1944 and January 16, 1945 (the time frame depicted in Crusade in Europe), while other works, including Charles B. MacDonald’s The Mighty Endeavor: The American War in Europe and Rick Atkinson’s monumental The Liberation Trilogy (An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light) take a wider view of the Western Allies’ fight against the Axis in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Northwest Europe.
Before I bought Crusade in Europe on Steam earlier this week, I already owned a similarly themed wargame titled Gary Grigsby’s War in the West. Developed by 2By3 Games and published by Slitherine and Matrix Games in 2015, Gary Grigsby’s War in the West is the antithesis of Crusade in Europe. It depicts many of the same battles, and it allows a player to step into the role of a theater commander in various theaters where the Allies fought against the Axis between 1943 and 1945.
But where Crusade in Europe is what game designers call a “beer and pretzels” wargame, where you can boot up the game and play it with just the Quick Reference card that came with the boxed version and a breezy perusal of the crisply-written game manual, Gary Grigsby’s War in the West is so detailed and complicated that I sometimes think you need a degree in Military Science just to play the first turn.
I mean, seriously. This game is so detailed that it not only includes every division that the Allies and Axis put on the field but each one of them has its commander listed, including his archive photo and his command traits. It is not an impossibly difficult game to play if you take the time to read the manual, watch the tutorial videos provided by the publisher, and play through the Operation Husky tutorial scenario.
Crusade in Europe is nothing like that. It is primitive-looking and lacks the complexity of Gary Grigsby’s War in the West, but it is less overwhelming and more accessible to folks who are casual wargamers and want to find out if they can perform as well as Rommel, Patton, Montgomery, Bradley, von Rundstedt, or Eisenhower but don’t want to feel stupid because they have to read a 313-page manual or watch several tutorial videos before playing a goddam computer wargame. (In sharp contrast, Crusade in Europe’s game manual is only 55 pages long.)
I will be writing a bit more about Crusade in Europe in the future. I don’t know how many posts I will devote to this game, or exactly what topics I’ll cover. I’ll discuss each of the game’s five scenarios, even though that means I will have to set aside huge chunks of time to play the longer ones. Back in the day, when I played the Apple II version of Crusade in Europe, it usually took me a few days to play the grand campaign in Crusade: The Battle for France, which starts on June 6, 1944, and ends on October 30, 1944.
In the late Eighties and early Nineties, I could save game sessions on a 5.25-inch floppy disc in a “save file,” quit the game and resume playing Crusade in Europe later. But neither MicroProse nor Atari reissued a version that worked with more modern PCs or could easily be saved on a hard drive, so if I want to play one of Crusade in Europe’s longer scenarios, it must be an “all-day” commitment. Right now, that makes it unlikely that I’ll play the Crusade campaign any time soon.
Makes me glad I only paid $6.99.
Anyway, if you have any questions about the game or suggestions for future Crusade in Europe writeups, let me know in the Comments section below.