Earlier this year, Atari – which owns the rights to many of the original MicroProse Software’s library of games – rereleased the three games in the mid-1980s Command Series trilogy of wargames: Crusade in Europe, Decision in the Desert, and Conflict in Vietnam. Designed by MicroProse co-founder Sid Meier and Ed Bever and originally published between 1985 and 1986, the trilogy allowed players to step into the roles of theater-level commanders and lead their armies in historic campaigns during World War II or the Vietnam War.
I once owned and played the Apple II version of all three games, which depict war not at the tactical or “grunt’s eye” levels but at the operational or command level. They depict war in vastly distinct locations and at different points in history. Decision in the Desert is set in North Africa between 1940 and 1942; Crusade in Europe depicts most of the campaign in Northwest Europe from the D-Day landings to the Battle of the Bulge; and Conflict in Vietnam examines several key battles in the 30-year-long struggle for Indochina from Dien Bien Phu (1954) to the 1972 Spring Offensive.
Since I was a fan of the Command Series trilogy, I bought all three games from Steam (they are available for $6.99 each). However, I returned Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam because they crashed every time I tried playing them. Crusade in Europe still works, though, and I’ve played through some of the shorter scenarios in the game.
Playing “Overlord”: Pre-Mission Briefing, or: Stuff You Need to Know Before Hitting the Beaches
As I mentioned in my review of Crusade in Europe, the game is divided into five major scenarios (The Battle for Normandy, Race to the Rhine, Operation Market-Garden: ‘A Bridge Too Far”, The Battle of the Bulge, and Crusade: The Liberation of France. The first four scenarios include several variants – 14 in all – that either vary in length or offer “what-if” scenarios based on actual plans considered by either the Allies or the Germans.
Since we are discussing the Battle for Normandy today, let’s see what this scenario’s variants are:
- D-Day: Clearing the Beaches
- D-Day: Rommel’s Strategy*
- Breakout from the Beachhead
- German Quick Reaction*
- The Liberation of Paris
Note: Variants marked with an * are “what-if” scenarios.
Let’s assume that you, Dear Reader, have purchased Crusade in Europe and want to get onto the battlefield – so to speak – without having to read the manual. (Note, the game download does not include a manual, but you can find it in Crusade in Europe’s Steam community page, where a member has posted the link to the PDF version.)
If you have not read my review of Crusade in Europe, I will list the basic Action, Objective, and Utility commands that you need to know to issue orders to your armies.
The Action Commands are:
A = Attack
D = Defend
M = Move
Note that you have two options when you issue commands, Local Command or what I call “Direct Command.”
In Local Command, you move your cursor onto one of your divisions and hit the A key without then hitting a directional arrow key and placing the cursor on a specific hex on the map of Normandy. Instead, the unit’s artificial intelligence will choose the nearest enemy unit, follow the most direct path, and attack it. I don’t recommend this for a first-time player because the game’s AI is good but not brilliant, and a unit left to its own devices can often blunder into a situation that it might not handle too well. (a light infantry unit such as the 101st Airborne Division would be mauled by an armored division such as the 12th SS Panzer if it attacks on Local Command!)
In “direct command,” you give a unit an Action Command (Attack, Defend, Move, or Reserve) by, selecting a friendly unit with your cursor, hitting the appropriate command key, moving the cursor with your directional keys to the desired place on the map, then hitting the Objective Here (H) key.
In addition to Action Commands, Crusade in Europe also has Utility Commands and Information Commands that help you keep track of casualties, examine the terrain you are fighting on, freeze or unfreeze your game, get a quick look at the strategic picture, and identify a unit that sent you a message. These Utility Commands are:
- F: (Freeze). Freezes the action so you can issue – or change – orders to your units or pause the game for a quick break. Hitting F again unfreezes the game
- L: (Load): Not applicable unless you can figure out how to save a game. In the old days, though, you could save games to a floppy disk on an external drive so you could play Crusade in Europe over several sessions
- Q: (Quit): This command does not exit you from the game. It does allow you to switch from one side to another if you are playing against another human (in hotseat mode) or want to play both sides or – perhaps less ethically – want to check on how strong (or weak) enemy units are
- B: (Flashback): Pauses the game and allows you to see the progress of your game in “flashback’ mode
- S: (Save): Not applicable to the remake – see my remarks on the Load Utility Command. Back in the day, when Crusade in Europe came in floppy discs, you had to save the game in a save file, especially when you were playing Crusade: The Liberation of France
- T: (Terrain) Every commander needs to know the “lay of the land” of the battlefield his forces are fighting in. The T command removes the units from the map and lets you see the terrain features. These range from Open ground – the ideal terrain for both combat and movement – to Sea, which is impassable to all units, even though Allied units that are “storming the beaches” or coming in as reinforcements start on a “Sea” hex
- U: (Unit) changes your unit icon from simplified NATO symbol to an icon (i.e., Infantry unit icons show a soldier in “sitting” firing position, Armor is a side view of a tank, Airborne is a parachute icon, etc. In my opinion, only beginners should use icons; they’re easy to ID but don’t distinguish between certain types of divisions, especially those of the Wehrmacht, which fielded not just regular infantry and panzer (armored) divisions, but also Luftwaffe Field Divisions, Static Infantry Divisions, and SS Panzer Divisions. Symbols help you ID these types of German unit, whilst icons do not
- “<” and “>”: (Speed): These keys allow you to adjust game speed from Fast to Medium to Slow.
In addition to Action, Objective, and Utility commands, commanders must use Information Commands to keep tabs on units, the attributes of the generals attached to units, and who is winning the game. These are described in the Crusade in Europe manual:
“SPACE” (UNIT STATUS) Displays all available information on the unit under the cursor. If the unit is an enemy unit, only limited information will be available.
“C” (CITY) Displays the name, occupant, and Victory Point value of the city under the cursor.
“G” (GENERAL) Describes the commander of the unit under the cursor.
“W’ (WHO?) Places the cursor on the unit from which the last message originated.
“?” (WHO’S WINNING?) Displays the game status in the text display area, including the current casualty levels, the victory level, and the current overall supply totals.
“O” (OVERVIEW MAP) Replaces the scrolling map and text display with a one-screen map of the entire board area, showing land and sea areas and the deployment of the opposing armies. Hit any key to return to the game.
This concludes this preinvasion briefing. Next time, we shall discuss actual game play and I will share some of my insights into what works – and what does not – in combat situations in Crusade in Europe. Until next time, general, you are dismissed.
 Crusade in Europe game manual, page 28 and color insert, MicroProse Software, 1985, British edition.