V-Day in Grasleben!
“The fight isn’t over until you win.” ― Robin Hobb, Royal Assassin
Last night, while refighting the Battle of Grasleben for – I think – the 10th time since I purchased Regiments (Bird’s Eye Games/MicroProse, 2022) on August 16, I earned my first Total Victory as the Blue force (American) commander against a Warsaw Pact joint force of East German and Soviet forces.
For those of you who are new to this space – hi! – or missed earlier posts in this Old Gamers Never Die series, Regiments is a real-time tactical game that depicts combined arms warfare in a conventional conflict between the U.S.-led NATO alliance and the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact in West Germany in an alternate history 1989. Apparently, Gorbachev’s efforts to reform the Soviet Union failed, and discontent in East Germany over the continued rule by the Communist Party bubbles over into a mutiny by a division of the National People’s Army.
The revolt is quickly and ruthlessly quelled, but in the last moments of fighting, someone – presumably radicals among the mutineers – sets off chemical weapons near one of the contested towns in East Germany. Traces of the poisonous chemicals are detected in neighboring West Germany, and when Bonn secretly dispatches a small raiding party to investigate, it is met by an East German armored (panzer) division. Shots are exchanged, both sides suffer casualties, and with East-West tensions already at an all-time high, what started as a purely localized revolt behind the Iron Curtain spirals into World War III.
This is, of course, the fictional background to the story behind this Cold War-turns-hot game, which bears superficial similarities to Eugen Games’ Wargame and Steel Division series, but it has its own spin on the game mechanics, overall look and “feel,” and – unlike those multiplayer-focused games by Eugen – Regiments harkens back to the single-player wargames (M1 Tank Platoon, Gunship, Red Storm Rising) created by MicroProse in its 1980s-1990s heyday.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be… – Winston S. Churchill
The Many Battles of Grasleben
In Regiments, there are three types of missions that you can choose to play:
- Tutorials, which teach you the basics of the game, starting with how to use your computer’s mouse and keyboard to move the camera around the battlefield, then progressing to teach you how to issue commands, what specific types of units can and can’t do, culminating in a combined-arms exercise in which you defend a position from the AI-controlled enemy with tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, artillery, attack helicopters (helos), and close air support jets
- Skirmishes are single battles in which you can play either as the Blue (NATO) force or the Red (Warsaw Pact/USSR) force. There are several location/situation based scenarios, including Grasleben, Steinbach, Ettenhousen, To Frankfurt, Runway Raw Power, Frontline, and Lakes,just to name a few. There are also different types of Skirmish, depending on whether you want to execute an Attack, try a Mobile Defense, or survive a Meeting Engagement. Each mission has its unique set of challenges and how to approach them
- Operations are separate incidents, presented in linear fashion, that when played all the way through comprise Regiments’ “grand campaign.” Unlike most game designers, the team at Bird’s Eye Games chose to use a Rashomon-style narrative in which each battle is told from a different belligerent nation’s force’s perspective
Regiments is a new game – it was released on Steam a bit over two weeks ago – so I am as green a player as a new GI fresh out of advanced training recently assigned to V Corps in 1989 West Germany. So even though I own several similarly themed wargames – including those Eugen Games Wargame series installments – I decided to choose one scenario – Grasleben – and play it until I became proficient at it.
“Oh, but Alex,” I can hear you say, “you’re going to win many battles easily if you play the same scenario over and over. Won’t you know where the enemy-held Objective Zones (OZs) are and where the Red force will be deployed?”
Not true, Dear Reader. The game shuffles the OZs around each time to generate a Grasleben scenario. The geographic location of the town stays put, but the enemy OZs and your Entry Point/Supply Depot are placed differently every time you start a Skirmish. So even if you’re familiar with that digitally recreated of Germany because you’ve “fought” there in Regiments, you can’t expect the enemy to be in the same places he was in the last time you played Regiments.
The game can also be set to have Random weather/time of day conditions, so. Again, unless you manually choose Day 1 – Clear every time you play it, just the fact that you can’t predict what the weather will be like or how dark – or clear – visual conditions will be…all these variables make it impossible for the Battle of Grasleben to be predictable.
“A battle is won by the side that is absolutely determined to win. Why did we lose the battle of Austerlitz? Our casualties were about the same as those of the French, but we had told ourselves early in the day that the battle was lost, so it was lost.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
The Thrill of Victory
Last night I chose – again – the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, partly because the last time I eked out a victory in Regiments was with the 1st Brigade, 3rd Armored Division and wanted to see how I’d do with another American unit, but mostly because I remembered I have a non-fiction book by the late Tom Clancy and his researcher/co-author, John D. Grisham titled Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment. I bought it in Miami in the mid-1990s, and I promised myself that if I ever played a game like M1 Tank Platoon again (by that time, many older PC games didn’t run on computers with Windows 95/96, and M1 Tank Platoon and F-15 Strike Eagle III were among the ones I couldn’t play anymore when Berkley Books started publishing the Guided Tour series), I’d use the knowledge I acquired while reading Armored Cav.
Well, to be honest, I have not read Armored Cav since before my mom got sick in 2010 and never really got better, so I’ve probably forgotten much of the tactical savvy I’d gotten from the book. But I never forgot how cool I thought the concept of armored cavalry was at the same time, nor the fact that then-Lt. Col. H.R. McMaster, the Gulf War victor of the Battle of 73 Easting and future National Security Adviser to former President Donald Trump, is interviewed in one of Armored Cav’s chapters.
“To obtain victory by any means and with any weapon.” ― Chris Bradford, The Way of the Dragon
Since it’s early morning here in Lithia and I have not gone to bed yet, I won’t regale you with a “history” of another Battle of Grasleben. I will say that I set the clock for 40 minutes rather than 30, that I used the Retreat option quite a few times, although not always successfully, and this time I used the AH-64A Apache gunship and the OH-58 Kiowa helicopters in teams for the first time.
Also, a first: I captured all eight of the OZs (from Alfa to Hotel, although I was so overextended that at one point it looked like a Soviet recce unit with BRDMs would recapture OZ Charlie. Luckily, I had my AH-64 Apache gunship and a few tanks lurking nearby, so I destroyed those pesky Soviet scouts and held on to my hard-won bit of real estate.
I still suffered casualties, of course; my helicopters particularly were hard hit: I lost six of them before the battle was over. I did not lose any fixed-wing A-10s, and the Soviets lost one attack jet. But as bad as my casualties were, the enemy suffered more.
All in all, it was a good night to play Regiments.
This is the 1000th blog post and the 786th consecutive day of publishing content on this WordPress blog. Mind you, three of those posts are Press This shares from other WordPress bloggers, but it is #1,000 no matter how one chooses to define it. If I don’t break the streak, in three days’ time I’d have 1,000 posts written exclusively by Yours Truly. For now, though, I still have 1,000 posts on this blog, regardless of authorship!