Old Gamers Never Die, or: Operation Market-Garden, ‘Crusade in Europe,’ and Unexpected Victories

The situation before nightfall on September 17, 1944 in Operation Market Garden. The U.S. 101st Airborne (in green) has captured Eindhoven, the first of three critical Victory Point locations. The Irish Guards Armored Division (red armored unit symbol) has linked up to its south. Another British armored division, the 7th, is attacking a German parachute infantry division (in black) whilst other British units drive up to support the attack and secure the flanks. In the center, the U.S, 82nd Airborne has captured Nijmegen but is not yet in contact with the advancing XXX Corps. Twelve miles beyond Nijmegen, the British 1st Airborne Division holds Arnhem, but an SS Panzer Corps HQ and an SS Panzer Division are adjacent to it. Note that dikes, swamps, and rivers limit the ability of the British to operate off-road. The entire plan hinges on the Allies’ ability to capture and defend the bridges between Eindhoven and Arnhem. Game design and graphics (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari.

“Many historians, with an ‘if only’ approach to the British defeat, have focused so much on different aspects of Operation Market Garden which went wrong that they have tended to overlook the central element. It was quite simply a very bad plan right from the start and right from the top. Every other problem stemmed from that.”― Antony Beevor, Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944

This is my Steam account’s library of games as it appeared on April 21. Note the cool graphic Atari created for “Crusade in Europe” in the Steam store.

Last night I played a session of Crusade in Europe to pass the time. I couldn’t choose anything to watch, and the Caregiver and her boyfriend were using the big TV in the Florida room, which for various reasons is my preferred place to watch anything. The lighting in my room is adequate for most purposes, but it sucks for reading, so it was either play a computer game or watch something on my decent but smallish 4K UHD TV set.

I have been playing Crusade in Europe since I purchased the Atari reissue of the 1985 DOS game last week. Before that, I had played it since 2018 on my browser via “abandonware” sites where many ancient – at least in computer terms – games languish. And before that, I had played Crusade on my Apple II from 1988 until that computer (my first) couldn’t be used because the monitor gave up the ghost sometime in the late 1990s.

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari
The British 50th Infantry Division captures Bayeux! (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

I usually play the first scenario – The Battle for Normandy – and its five variants because D-Day and the Normandy campaign are what got me interested in World War II originally. It’s the campaign that cracked Hitler’s vaunted Atlantikwall, and it’s the focal setting for many books, movies, and TV shows, including The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers.

However, the game does include four other scenarios, including the Crusade: The Battle for France grand campaign, and it’s not a bad idea to choose one of them instead of sticking to the D-Day centric battle simulations. Plus, it’s fun to challenge yourself in missions that may not necessarily go your way.

“It’s All a Question of Bridges….”

This screencap is from the "Drive on the Ruhr" variant of Operation Market-Garden, which was based on a risky plan to drop the airborne divisions over the Germans' "Westwall" fortifications and onto the industrial heartland of the Third Reich. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Operation Market-Garden: “A Bridge Too Far” is the third scenario in the chronology of Crusade in Europe. Its subtitle is a callback to both Cornelius Ryan’s 1974 non-fiction book and the 1977 film adaptation directed by Richard Attenborough. Its main scenario is based on the historical airborne assault on Nazi-occupied Holland by the First Allied Airborne Army (Market) and the British Second Army, spearheaded by the British XXX Corps (Garden).

Market-Garden was the brainchild of British Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, who had held various commands since the start of World War II and was Britain’s most popular general for defeating Germany’s dashing General (later Field Marshal) Erwin Rommel (aka The Desert Fox) at the Battle of Alamein in the fall of 1942.

Monty, as he was known to both his admirers and critics, was a polarizing figure during his lifetime, and he remains one in the 21st Century. He has a solid reputation as a trainer and motivator of British citizen soldiers. The “Tommies” who served under his various commands in France, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Northwest Europe loved him because he gave them confidence in themselves, used as much artillery and air support as possible to overwhelm the enemy, and preferred to plan and execute set-piece battles that didn’t leave much room for improvisation.

He was also a prickly, egotistic, and undiplomatic man who was difficult to get along with. He also believed that he was better suited to serve as the Allied Land Forces Commander, a position that he often “suggested” for himself as he thought that General Dwight D.” Ike” Eisenhower, an American, lacked the strategic sagacity to personally command the Allied Expeditionary Force, which Eisenhower started doing – per the Operation Overlord plan approved by the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff many months before the invasion began.

Many in the Allied command considered Montgomery to be arrogant and self-infatuated, while he viewed himself as the world’s greatest military mind. He resented that Eisenhower was his superior, openly expressing disdain and privately belittling his generalship. Eisenhower displayed heroic patience in his dealings with Monty, but still came close to sacking him. Eisenhower was particularly frustrated with Montgomery’s refusal to make a move unless ensured that a vast superiority in troops and weapons guaranteed victory and maintained his reputation. 

“President Eisenhower’s Top 5 Most Disliked Contemporaries” – Eisenhower National Historic Site
The British 43rd Infantry Division acknowledges its orders to advance. (C)1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Market-Garden was Montgomery’s latest gambit to win a quick victory on the Western Front and end the war before Christmas 1944 – and, incidentally, win personal glory as the general who achieved this feat. Without a doubt, Monty thought the Allied cause would benefit if Hitler’s armies surrendered well before the Soviets reached the German frontiers in the east. But I don’t doubt that he also wanted to go down in history as Britain’s greatest battlefield commander – and prove that his generalship was better than Ike’s.

I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of Monty’s “narrow front” strategy versus Ike’s “broad front” strategy. This post is getting long as it is, and it’s too complex to describe in brief.  What I will say is that Montgomery deduced that if he convinced Eisenhower to let him use the First Allied Airborne Army, a newly-created formation that placed American, British, Canadian, and Polish paratroopers under one headquarters, in a stunning and successful operation in the British sector, Monty would somehow get his narrow front approach adopted purely by default.

To quickly describe Operation Market-Garden, here are some quotes from William Goldman’s screenplay for A Bridge Too Far:

Lt. Gen. Horrocks: [briefing his XXX Corps officers on Operation Market Garden] Gentlemen, this is a story that you shall tell your grandchildren, and mightily bored they’ll be. [the officers laugh] The plan is called “Operation Market Garden”. “Market” is the airborne element, and “Garden”, the ground forces. That’s us. [points to a map behind him of Holland, showing the positions of the Allied forces, and the path the Corps will take] Now, this is our position on the Belgian border, here. Tomorrow, three airborne divisions will begin landing in Holland. 35,000 men taking off from 24 airfields in troop-carrying planes or towed in gliders. The American 101st, here, around Eindhoven, the American 82nd, here, south of Nijmegen, and our own 1st airborne boys, and a Polish brigade, here, at Arnhem, 64 miles behind enemy lines. Now, their job is to take and hold all the bridges in these three areas. Our job is to punch a hole through the German front line, here, and then drive like hell up this road, linking up with each airborne division on the way. Speed is the vital factor. The plan is to reach Eindhoven in two to three hours, and Arnhem in two to three days. That, gentlemen, is the prize – the bridge over the Rhine, the last bridge between us and Germany

 And….

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Why the emergency meeting?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Just keeping me abreast of the little changes.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: How big are the little changes?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’ll answer with typical British understatement: gigantic. For example, they can’t get us all in at once. Too many men, too much equipment, not enough planes. It’s gonna take three days to get the men into Arnhem, Poles and the British.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Well, what about us?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: We’ll be all right. Aside from the fact that we’re parachuting in daylight, we have nothing to worry about.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Daylight? Has it ever been tried before?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Not in a major drop.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: You think there might be a reason for that?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Let’s hope not.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: What do you think?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: It’ll be all right. It’s a no-moon period anyway. We have to go in daylight. It doesn’t matter. Just so they get us over the target area. Half a mile away, three quarters of a mile, I’ll settle for that–

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I don’t want to hear anything else. Is there anything else?

Note the boggy, soggy, water-logged terrain in the Netherlands. Tanks and other vehicles could not operate off-road, thus restricting their movement to the Dutch highways. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

An Unexpected Victory

The German panzer divisions in the Market-Garden area were not at full-strength, and Crusade in Europe makes a serious attempt to depict them accurately. Yet, because the Britisj and Polish “Paras” had no tanks, even depleted panzer divisions were strong enough to defeat the Allies at Arnhem in reality. Here, though, the British have created a wide corridor along “Hell’s Highway,” and an armored brigade and two British infantry have linked up with the American, British, and Polish contingents. This screencap was taken from the German player’s side before the ended. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

If you are familiar with how the real-life operation turned out – spoiler alert: the Allies captured all of the bridges except the one at Arnhem, and the British and Polish paratroopers that tried to capture it suffered heavy casualties, thus handing the Germans one last victory in World War II – you know that things did not go the way Monty expected. (To his dying day in 1976, Montgomery insisted that his plan would have worked had he gotten all the support he wanted, and that “Market-Garden was 90% successful.”)

Of course, one of the reasons why wargames are popular is that they allow a player to replay famous battles and see if he – or she – can change the historical outcome by using different strategies and finding fresh solutions to the dilemmas faced by generals such as Monty, Ike, or Patton.

The game settings screen in Crusade in Europe.

Now, even though Crusade in Europe is a user-friendly command-level wargame that does not get into mind-numbing technical details, it is still a serious attempt to be a historically accurate game. The order of battle on both sides is based on the roster of units that were actually fielded in the game’s chronology, so it’s not like a player can go, “Hmm. In Market-Garden the Allies only had three full airborne divisions and a brigade for the airborne drop. Let’s use all of the ones assigned to the First Allied Airborne Army, including the U.S. 17th Airborne and the British 6th!”

Nope. You can’t do that. In Crusade in Europe’s historical scenarios, you get what the Allied commanders had available to them during certain battles. The same goes for the Germans if you want to play them, too.

Because you have the option of changing specific tactical situations once the battle starts, and because the game does randomize background stuff such as weather and the AI’s reaction to your moves, Crusade in Europe gives you at least a chance to change history. It is hard because Market-Garden’s Achilles heel is the fact that the only way to win even a Slight Victory is to capture all the bridges along a single highway, repel German counterattacks on both flanks of that slender route, and link your armored and infantry divisions along the Eindhoven-Nijmegen-Arnhem Road, while at the same time making sure that all your units stay in supply.

The Market-Garden scenario information page in the Crusade in Europe manual (PDF edition). (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

 

The final troop dispositions at the end of the scenario. Note the huge gap in the German lines at battle’s end. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Last night, I somehow managed to eke out a Slight Victory (yes, there are varying levels of victory, ranking from Slight to Total, depending on how many Victory Point (VP) locations the winner holds, the difference between your casualties and the enemy’s, and the VP value of the units both sides lose.

Don’t worry, I am not going to regale you with a blow-by-blow account of How I Achieved the Victory that Eluded Montgomery; I did not take notes, and I do not know how to record game sessions on a computer. I do recall that even though I set the game balance on Fair (neither side had an advantage), I had better weather than the Allies had in September 1944, and the enemy AI made several mistakes that I took advantage of.

The one tactic that I remember using was to attack the Germans’ II SS Panzer Corps headquarters up near Arnhem. That made it difficult for the two German panzer divisions – which, as in the real battle, were understrength and only defeated the British airborne because the “paras” had no tanks – to be in supply, and even though they were never so weakened that they’d have to surrender to the Allies, those two German divisions simply could not destroy my British 1st Airborne before the “Garden” force arrived at Arnhem.

As I wrote last night on my Facebook page:

Tonight – since I really don’t do anything exciting here – I decided to try Operation Market-Garden: “A Bridge Too Far.”

I thought the computer would beat me since in real life the Allies did not gain a victory in Market-Garden. When I played the game regularly, sometimes I won, but most of the time I lost.

Well, tonight I can honestly say…I did what Montgomery could not do in 1944. 

Yep. It felt good to win – even if it was only a narrow victory.

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Old Gamers Never Die: A Player’s Guide to ‘Crusade in Europe’ (Part One of a Series)

Screencap from a session of “Crusade in Europe.” at the end of a scenario. Although the four Allied tactical air wings are shown “floating” off the coast of Normandy, they’re really based in southern England. Also, note the status report showing casualties on both sides. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Background Briefing

This is my Steam account’s library of games as it appeared on April 21. Note the cool graphic Atari created for “Crusade in Europe” in the Steam store.

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.

The intro to “Crusade in Europe” was a tip of the hat to 1970’s “Patton” film. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

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

The color insert at the “gatefold” of the manual had a handy guide to the commands you need to use to lead your armies into battle. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

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.

There are five main scenarios and 14 variants in “Crusade in Europe.” (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Since we are discussing the Battle for Normandy today, let’s see what this scenario’s variants are:

  1. D-Day: Clearing the Beaches
  2. D-Day: Rommel’s Strategy*
  3. Breakout from the Beachhead
  4. German Quick Reaction*
  5. 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

R-= Reserve

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!)

This unit has been ordered to move two hexes (each hex is six miles square) and has been given an objective.

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:

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari via Steam
  • 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.
Hit the SPACE bar when your cursor is on top of a unit. If the unit is “friendly” (one of yours), you will get plenty of information. You can get information from adjacent enemy units, but you won’t get as much data from them.

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:

INFORMATION COMMANDS

“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.[1]

Closing Remarks

Here we see the “end of battle” screen. Note that I issued the T (Terrain) command to remove units from the map to see the various terrain features. Those areas dominated by green patchwork terrain symbols represent Normandy’s infamous hedgerow country, where Allied forces found themselves stymied not just by the German defenses, but by the dense, almost jungle-like vegetation of the “bocage.”

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.


[1] Crusade in Europe game manual, page 28 and color insert, MicroProse Software, 1985, British edition.

Musings & Thoughts for Sunday, April 24, 2022, or: Plan A Didn’t Pan Out, So Here’s Plan B

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Hi, there, Dear Reader.

Today I was going to write another post about Crusade in Europe, one of my favorite games from when I owned my first home computer, an Apple IIe with a color monitor and an Imagewriter dot-matrix printer. That was a gift I received from my Uncle Sixto Diaz-Granados 35 years ago this month, and it was the machine on which I became a gamer in my mid-twenties. (It was also the catalyst for the slow-motion estrangement between my older half-sister and me, but I am not going to get into that now.)

A screen “cap” of Drive on the Ruhr, a “what if” variant of Operation Market-Garden based on an abandoned plan to drop one corps from the First Allied Airborne Army over the Germans’ Westwall line of fortifications west of the Rhine River and send an Anglo-American force of infantry and armor to link up with the paratroopers. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari

Anyway, yes. I planned to write a dissertation (of sorts) that focused on specific aspects of Crusade in Europe. I even started writing it with a modicum of enthusiasm and a vague idea of what I wanted to say.

Alas, several paragraphs into the post, I realized that I truly had no idea where I was going with my line of thought. I typed, and typed, and typed, but even though I wrote 327 words in eight short paragraphs, it seemed – to me, at least – that I was taking far too long to get to the point. Indeed, it seemed like I had no point to make.

That was exasperating, so I decided to close that document file without deleting the stuff I’d written and decided to…um…write this instead.

Even though I had a good breakfast this morning – close to midday, but still – and slept relatively well, I am tired. Physically, mentally, and, dare I say, emotionally.

When I was writing the post I had told myself I’d write today, I started out with both enthusiasm and the intention to finish and publish it. I really did. I wasn’t hungry, and I drank three cups of coffee that the Caregiver took the time to brew for me.

It is vexing – to say the least – when I wake up with an action plan in my head, sit at my desk and start to write, and then end up feeling like a driver who takes a wrong turn and drives the car off the road and into a field of thick, sticky mud.

Ugh. I hate that. And unfortunately, it happens more frequently than I care to admit.

I suppose that I could – should – take the rest of this lovely Sunday afternoon and relax. Preferably in another room of the house and away from my desk. I should go out for a walk and get some exercise. Or, if I don’t want to take a shower and change into “street clothes,” at least grab a book and read it out in the living room. It’s not like I am confined to quarters.

Still, I am irked about that post that I wanted to write before I tucked it away for another day.

I hate it when a plan doesn’t come together, you know?

Old Gamers Never Die: or, Why I Love ‘Crusade in Europe’ & Other Musings

A screenshot from the start of The Battle of the Bulge scenario in Crusade in Europe. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse & Atari

Why I Love ‘Crusade in Europe’ & Other Musings

A view of my Steam games library. Sadly, I had to remove Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam from the list of games.

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….

Augh! I can’t play these wargames; they crashed every time I tried to play through a scenario, so I returned them to Steam. Top image: Title sequence of Conflict in Vietnam. Bottom image: Screenshot from Decision in the Desert. (C) 1985, 1986, and 2022 MicroProse & Atari

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.

At least this one seems to work well, right? Right? Image credit: (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari

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.

But….but…I don’t want to go to West Point just to play Gary Grigsby’s War in the West……(C) 2015 2By3 Games, Slitherine Ltd., and Matrix Games

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.)

Add another victory to my “Wins” column, folks! Image Credit: (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari

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.   

This is such a fun and easy-to-play wargame. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari

Old Gamers Never Die: Pointers for First-Time Players of ‘Crusade in Europe’

A screenshot from Breakout from the Beaches, the third variant of Crusade in Europe’s The Battle of Normandy scenario. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.

The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. ­– General Dwight D. Eisenhower, USA, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, in his Order of the Day for June 6, 1944

Crusade in Europe is a strategy wargame that focuses on the first six months of the 1944-1945 campaign in Northwest Europe during the “endgame” stage of the Second World War. Published in late 1985 as part of MicroProse Software’s Command Series trilogy,[1] Crusade in Europe was designed by MicroProse co-founder Sid Meier and Ed Bever. It was programmed for many platforms, including Atari, Commodore 64, Apple II, and IBM personal computers.

You can command units of different types and different nationalities. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari

Like many strategy games written for early personal computers in the mid- to late 1980s, Crusade in Europe was not revamped by MicroProse during its heyday in the 1990s. Although it was co-created by the legendary game designer who is best known as the progenitor of the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise that is still going strong in the 21st Century, the Command Series trilogy was consigned to the dustbin of history, and other, more complex games – such as Gary Grigsby’s War in the West – have eclipsed its games, especially Crusade in Europe.

Fortunately, the game has its hardcore fans, and apparently, Atari, one of the companies that own the rights to many of the original MicroProse’s titles, reissued Crusade in Europe and its two Command Series stablemates earlier this year via Steam for the incredibly affordable price of $6.99 apiece.[2]

So, let’s say that you are interested in Crusade in Europe after reading yesterday’s review of this game and that you have decided to mosey on over to Steam to buy it.

And let’s also assume that you want some pointers on how to play Crusade in Europe well enough to consider yourself a competent theater commander of great armies during history’s greatest clash of arms.

Here are some pointers that will make your introduction to Crusade In Europe a bit easier, especially if you choose to dispense with the game manual, which is not included in the download of the game. (You can find the link to the PDF version in Crusade in Europe’s Community Hub page.)

The title page and situation map of Occupied Europe on June 5, 1944 in the “Crusade in Europe” game manual.

Crusade in Europe: Or How to Survive and Thrive on the (Digital) Battlefields of WWII

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

If a soldier would command an army, he must be prepared to withstand those who would criticize the manner in which he leads that army. There is no place in a democratic state for the attitude which would elevate each military hero above public reproach simply because he did the job he has been trained and is paid to do. – General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, USA,  A Soldier’s Story

To get a grasp on how to play Crusade in Europe for the first time, I suggest you start with the first scenario, The Battle for Normandy and its first variant, Clearing the Beaches. It is a short scenario; it starts at 6 AM on June 6, 1944 and ends at 6 PM on June 11, 1944. It is also a mission with a single objective: capture all five of the Allied invasion beaches (UTAH, OMAHA, SWORD, JUNO, GOLD), link them up by clearing them of German forces, and push inland as far as possible before the scenario ends.

I don’t want to write a long dissertation about how you should play the entire scenario, so I will just limit myself to discussing the initial situation and the unit types involved, while suggesting a few tactical moves to get you started and help you understand how certain things work in Crusade in Europe. I will sometimes quote from the game manual since it’s better if you get some information from the original sources.

Ready? Okay, let’s go to war!

Stand To!

Since this is your first time playing, set all your game options to the easiest level of difficulty available and choose the Allied player for yourself.  Only after you’ve played Crusade in Europe as the Allies at least once should you choose to play as the Germans. In this scenario, they are the underdog even though they are technically superior in numbers in France on June 6, 1944.

Once you have configured the game settings, it’s time to go to battle! Hit ENTER, then as soon as the map screen appears and you see the units, which are already either ATTACKING or DEFENDING per the historical situation at 6 AM on June 6, at their initial positions on the coast of Normandy. Hit F (for FREEZE) and examine the situation before you give your first command.

Now that the game is paused, survey the battlefield to assess the situation. I usually start by going to each of my units from west to east.

 (The Allies’ “right” flank, which is also the American sector, is on the western side of the map since their axis of advance is from north to south, the Allied right flank is on the observer’s left, while the Allied “left” flank, which is the British/Canadian sector, is on our right.)

In Crusade in Europe, American units are identified as green symbols, Anglo-Canadian forces are identified as red symbols, whilst German forces are black symbols. Each unit type can be identified by its simplified NATO style map symbol.

From west to east, we can see that three American divisions – the 82nd and 101st Airborne and the 4th “Ivy” Infantry Division (ID) are fighting on and behind UTAH beach, which is on the southeast coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. The airborne divisions are already in defense mode, but move your cursor onto each unit – use the directional arrow keys to do this – and hit the D action command to DEFEND, followed by the H command for HERE. This will tell the paratroopers, which are lightly armed and not strong enough to attack the tough Landsers of the German 91st  ID, to dig in on the N-13 Highway that connects Cherbourg (a CRITICAL location that is worth 41 Victory Points, or VPs) to Paris. Keep the airborne troops there; they will shield the right flank of the seaborne invasion from the German 91st ID. They will also separate the 91st from the two German static infantry divisions (static) that are deployed between UTAH and Cherbourg. [3]

The 4th ID has two possible choices as to which German unit to attack on D-Day. In the game, UTAH Beach is already in Allied control (it’s worth 31 VPs), but the Ivy Division is opposed by two enemy units.

To its south, the 4th ID is blocked from the town of Carentan (10 VPs) by the small but elite 6th Parachute Regiment. To its north, the 709th Static ID is hunkered down in the swampy expanses beyond UTAH Beach.

Either choice is acceptable, since the goal of Clearing the Beaches is to inflict as many casualties as possible upon the Germans while keeping your own casualties down, while at the same time linking the five Allied beaches and consolidating them into one continuous beachhead.

In the longer Battle of Normandy scenarios, I usually leave the 6th Parachute Regiment alone until the 29th “Blue and Gray” ID extricates itself from OMAHA Beach (31 VPs) and its deadly struggle with the German 352nd ID. For this tutorial, though, I recommend you order the 4th ID to ATTACK the German paras in Carentan.

In the center of the American sector lies OMAHA Beach. Here, Crusade in Europe depicts the assault on this beach being carried out by two full divisions, the 29th ID on the “right,” and the 1st “Big Red One” ID on the “left.”  (In real life, although the assault landing on “Bloody Omaha” was a joint endeavor by those two units, the first waves involved a regimental combat team from each division under the nominal command of the Big Red One.) They’re opposed by the German 352nd ID, which is in FORTIFIED formation.

Operation Overlord begins! (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse, Atari via Steam

Here, you don’t have a smorgasbord of options to capture OMAHA. The only way to get the Germans off that beach is via a frontal attack. Order the 1st and the 29th IDs to attack the 352nd. There’s no way to maneuver either of your divisions to the 352nd’s flanks, and the closest British unit, the 50th ID, still needs to land on GOLD Beach and capture it (CRITICAL, 31 VPs) before it can attempt to assist its American comrades-in-arms.

Now is a good time to move your cursor up to where you see the four Allied Tactical Air Wings’ symbols. The game depicts them (the U.S. IX and XIX Tactical Air Wings, and the British 84 and 83 Tac Air Groups) on the Bay of the Seine as if they were carrier-based. They are based off-map in southern England, but for ease of play Crusade in Europe shows the fighter-bombers “based” at sea.

The 352nd ID is dug in and will inflict heavy casualties on your seaborne divisions at OMAHA, so it might be wise to order airstrikes by at least two air wings. Heck, use all four if you think it’ll help. Keep in mind that airstrikes cause damage to enemy units, but they don’t destroy them outright. Also, tactical air wings are powerful, but they also suffer casualties from dug-in defenders. So use them with caution – and don’t expect miracles from your fighter-bombers.

On the British sector, you have at least three options:

  • Attack the 716th Static ID with the British 50th and Canadian 3rd IDs in a coordinated assault and order the 3rd British ID to land on SWORD Beach (31 VPs), move inland one hex beyond to just above Caen (another Critical location but one that you should not go for in this brief scenario; it is guarded by the 21st Panzer Division) and go on Defense mode there
  • Attack the 716th ID with just the 3rd Canadian ID, send the 3rd British ID to “invest” Caen as described above, and peel the 50th British ID to the “right” to assist the Americans at OMAHA
  • Do the first two steps noted above, but instead of sending the 50th British ID to aid the U.S. assault on OMAHA, order it to capture Bayeux (12 VPs)

If you have decided to keep one or both of your British air wings for use to support the Anglo-Canadian landings, you must figure which enemy targets to strike with them. You could bomb the 21st Panzer down in Caen, but that unit is tough – it is in Deployed formation, so it is not as vulnerable as if it were in Mobile or Transport mode. I usually sic my fighter-bombers on the hapless 716th Static ID; that usually loosens their grip on the beach they are defending, and the 3rd Canadian Division can push inland rather quickly, compared to its American counterparts on OMAHA.

Finally, we come to the far “left” flank of the invasion area, where the British 6th Airborne is in Defense mode and holding on to the Orne River bridge. Even though it is already dug in, order it to DEFEND by issuing the D Action command and the H (for Here) Objective command.

Key Concepts

The game manual contains maps, reinforcement schedules, and other information to help you lead your armies in the historically-based simulation of the Liberation of France and Western Europe. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse/Atari via Steam

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. –  General Dwight D. Eisenhower,USA, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, in his Order of the Day for June 6, 1944

Here are some important concepts that you need to know if you are going to assume command of your forces in Crusade in Europe. They are distilled from the game manual and my experiences with the game.

  1. Crusade in Europe is not turn based. “Instead, the computer conducts the activities of units continuously, while a clock ticks off the simulated passage of time. The computer processes each unit approximately once every eight game hours.”  – from the game manual
  2. Units do not obey orders instantaneously. Just as in real war – especially during WWII, when we did not have satellite comms or battlefield computers – there is a lag between the time you issue a command and the unit you gave it to carries it out. It takes several minutes (a few “hours,” in the game’s accelerated-real-time) between the moment you tell the IX Tac Air Wing to attack the 352nd Infantry Division and when the fighter-bombers swoop in to strike
  3. Each unit type performs some tasks better than others in different circumstances. Infantry is great at defending, especially in cities, fortifications, and rough terrain. However, in situations where infantry units are attacking, it is wise to do so when you have a 3:1 ratio in your favor, and have support from armored units and air units.

Armored units are excellent when they are on the attack on open ground and supported by infantry. In ideal conditions – good weather, flat, easily traversable terrain, and roads, and with other units in support, armored units can move the farthest and fastest. However, in close terrain (such as Normandy’s infamous hedgerow country, or in cities) armor is not as efficient and suffers high casualties against well-placed defending infantry.

  1. Airborne units are elite light infantry units that should be used to defend key VP locations or the flanks of the invasion area. For Clearing the Beaches, they should not be ordered to attack or move from their current position
  2. It is usually a good idea to use two, even three divisions against one enemy division. The more, the merrier, I say. However, this approach is risky since, especially in Clearing the Beaches, you have a finite number of units on hand, and you can find yourself with gaps in your front that enemy forces can exploit
  3. For the attacker, you must remember that weather, time of day, and terrain affect how well – or how poorly – your units will perform. In the context of Crusade in Europe, which is set in 1944, attacks fare better in daylight than at night. Air units can only fly during the day and in good weather conditions. And tanks will suffer high losses in rough terrain and cities where infantry units are dug in
  4. Keep your supply lines safe and secure, even in short scenarios. Make sure that your units don’t have wide gaps in the perimeter which would allow enemy forces to either impede your supply distribution or attack your supply depot!
  5. Do attempt to cut your enemy’s supply lines, especially in the Cotentin Peninsula, where two static IDs stand between you and Cherbourg. In Clearing the Beaches this is not as important since the game ends well before those divisions run out of supplies. In longer scenarios, though, isolate not only the static divisions to the north of UTAH, but also get into the habit of isolating the 91st Infantry Division (which was really called the 91st Air Landing Division) by pushing divisions south and west of Carentan to cut the Peninsula off from the rest of Normandy

There are other concepts that you need to learn when playing Crusade in Europe, but for now, these will do.

  Commands to Remember:

(C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari via Steam

Do not try to make circumstances fit your plans. Make plans that fit the circumstances.Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., USA

  1. Move (M) tells a unit to move. If not followed by the Objective Command Here (H), this order puts the selected unit under Local Command and it will choose the closest and fastest route that its AI finds to a possible objective. This can be risky, though, because the unit can blunder into a situation that it might not extricate itself from. I prefer using the Objective Command after giving an Action Command, such as ordering the 50th British ID to MOVE to Bayeux and pressing H when my cursor is on that destination’s map hex
  2. Attack (A) tells a unit to attack. As with the Move Command, it is preferable to use the Objective Command Here rather than allow a unit to act under Local Command
  3. Defend (D) tells a unit to go in defensive mode and dig in. Again, the same caveat of using the Objective Command applies.
    One thing to remember about the Defend command: The longer a unit is in Defend mode, the deeper it digs in. You’ll note that there are different levels of defense, ranging from a basic defense in which the troops dig foxholes and hunker down, then they become Entrenched, then Fortified, then they enter Garrison mode. The higher the level of fortification, the longer it takes a unit to be deployable – it takes up to a “day” for a division to go from Fortified to Deployed, and two to three “days” to make the transition from Garrison to Deployed
  4. Reserve (R) serves two important functions. First, if you take a unit “off the line” and order it to go into this mode when it is “in supply” and not in contact with the enemy, it will slowly recover its efficiency levels and replace its losses from combat. How many men and tanks each unit gets “daily” depends on the replacement rates for each scenario. However, a decimated unit that is allowed to rest and recover usually is back to 100% efficiency within a “week” in-game time. Second, the Reserve command, when used to order a unit to go from Point A to Point B over long distances, puts that unit on TRANSPORT mode. The unit then moves faster – especially on road hexes – but it is also vulnerable to enemy attack

Efficiency Levels of Units (from the Crusade in Europe Manual):

Note all of the information on the selected German unit (the 711th Static Division) , including its Effectiveness level. (C) 1985, 2022 MicroProse and Atari via Steam

100%: The unit is at its prime

90%: The unit has suffered from the effects of combat, but it is still in good shape.

80%: The unit is beginning to feel the effects of prolonged combat.

60-70%: The unit is definitely feeling the effects of combat. It should be withdrawn if possible.

40-50%: The unit is overstrained. It can be expected to deteriorate rapidly under pressure. It should be withdrawn as soon as possible.

30% and less: The unit will offer little resistance to enemy attacks, and may disintegrate on its own. Withdraw it immediately. – Sid Meier and Ed Bever, Crusade in Europe game manual


[1] The other two titles in the Command Series are Decision in the Desert and Conflict in Vietnam.

[2] This a good bargain, considering that when these games were originally released in the late Eighties, the MSRP was $39.99 for each individual title.

[3] For the purpose of Clearing the Beaches, Cherbourg is not an important objective because the scenario ends on June 11. Even if you set your game options to EASIEST by setting the balance to ALLIES ++, that’s not enough time to destroy two static divisions and drive to Cherbourg.

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.

Musings & Thoughts for Wednesday, April 20, 2022, or: I’m in a Miami State of Mind

I snapped this photo during my last visit to the Denny’s near my former home in South Florida in February of 2016.

Well, it’s Wednesday, April 20, 2022 – Hump Day, Midweek Madness, When-the-Heck-Does-the-Weekend-Start Day – here in my corner of Lithia, Florida. I have some relaxing classical music playing on Amazon Music – Essential Mozart: 32 of His Greatest Masterpieces – as I sit at my desk and gather my thoughts to write this – my 839th post – in WordPress.

Right now, this “thought-gathering” process is, to put it succinctly, a mess. Unlike on Monday, when I knew that I was going to review the graphic novel The Lions of Leningrad, I started my writing day without so much a glimmer of a topic for today’s blog post.

I didn’t do anything terribly exciting last night. After a quick dinner – the Caregiver’s middle son prepared fried tilapia and white rice – I thought that I would watch another episode of The Office; I have only watched the first episode – Pilot – since I started a rewatch of the series on Monday night. But my watching moods are weirdly fickle, so I ended up watching an episode from the first season of Star Wars: Rebels instead.

I actually intended to watch two episodes – Spark of Rebellion, the animated series from Disney’s Lucasfilm Animation studio’s one-hour premiere, was split into two parts for the home media release – but because I was served dinner after 8 PM and I’d been up since before 7 AM, I was so tired that I barely got through the first part and turned off my Blu-ray player and television shortly after the second part started.

Now, it’s early afternoon here in the Tampa Bay area, and even though I had breakfast – a bowl of Kix Cereal and two cups of Folger’s Coffee – I am still sleepy, lethargic, and dealing with a mild but nagging headache.

I can deal with the headache easily enough – I have a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol gelcaps here – and I will attend to that minor malady soon. The sleepiness and lethargy part? That won’t be too easy; I don’t have my mother’s ability to take naps in the afternoon, I can’t sleep if the light levels in my room are high. My Venetian blinds are drawn, as are my curtains, so the lighting in here is diminished but still bright enough to keep me awake. 

I also wish – as frequent readers of this blog know – that we had a Denny’s restaurant within walking distance in our part of FishHawk, the sprawling development where I’ve lived since April of 2016 after moving from my mom’s townhouse in South Florida. In my previous neighborhood, we had a Denny’s which was only a third of a mile away from the house.

During my last eight months in Miami I, of course, did not eat at that Denny’s more than twice a month, but it was nice to have a place where I could get a hamburger or a Grand Slam Breakfast if I wanted.

Here, depending on which route one chooses, the nearest Denny’s location is between 10.8 and 11.7 miles away from the house where I live. I can walk long distances, yes, but I don’t think I’ve ever walked that far. Besides, whenever I did walk long distances in South Florida, I did so because I knew the geography well and did not get lost easily.

I have lived in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 10% of my life now, and I had visited the region before, mostly between 2001 and 2004. That having been said, we don’t go out regularly anymore – especially after the Caregiver embarked on a new romantic relationship and moved her new boyfriend into the house. So, I don’t have the same navigation savvy that I had in my hometown of Miami. Plus, as much as I want a Denny’s hamburger or Grand Slam Breakfast, I’m not hiking nearly 12 miles to eat one. (And because I’m not as trusting of strangers as I used to be in my younger years, I am reluctant to go with Lyft or Uber.)

I really could go for a Bourbon Bacon Burger right now….

Intellectually, I know that I’m better off living in a house where I’m in a “family setting” and that at least the Caregiver likes me well enough to give me a room of my own in exchange for a rent that is lower than what is the norm in Hillsborough County. And I was happy here for the first four years of my stay, despite some differences between the Caregiver and me that seemed bearable in the beginning but – apparently – became irreconcilable as time went on.

Emotionally, though, I wish I had been able to afford to live in my house – yes, it was legally mine for a while – and that the original plan to repair and renovate it had come to fruition. Not only would I not be frustrated by all the restrictions on me – here I can’t even cook my own meals because gas stoves and I don’t mix well, for instance – but I could go out on my own without having to depend on anyone else.

And yes, I could walk that one-third of a mile to Denny’s and eat one of their specialty hamburgers whenever I wanted!  

Musings & Thoughts for Tuesday, April 19, 2022, or: Revisiting ‘The Office’ on Blu-ray

Promotional photo of The Office: The Complete Series Blu-ray box set. (C) 2020 Universal Studios

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It is late morning here in Lithia, Florida, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. It is a cool, dry spring day in the Tampa Bay area. The current temperature is 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 69% and the wind blowing from the north-northeast at 9 MPH (15 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius). Today’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius). Tonight, skies will be clear. The low will be 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). There’s a Red Flag warning in effect between 1 PM and 8 PM EDT. This means that the combination of low relative humidity, high temperatures, and high windspeeds increases the chance of wildfires in the area.

Last night I started rewatching The Office. I have the complete series on Blu-ray, but it has been three years or so since I last saw it, so I figured it was time to revisit my old friends at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc.

Dwight Schrute: Damn it! Jim! He put my stuff in Jell-O again.

[Points to Michael]

Dwight Schrute: You can be a witness. Can you reprimand him, please?

Jim Halpert: [eating Jell-O] How do you know it was me?

I started watching the pilot episode shortly before 8 PM Eastern Daylight Time, and I had a good time watching Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Leslie David Anderson, B.J. Novak, Brian Baumgartner, and Meloda Harlin go through their comedic paces.

Here’s the IMDb.com synopsis of The Pilot:

The premiere episode introduces the boss and staff of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company in Scranton, Pennsylvania in a documentary about the workplace.

Even though I’ve owned The Office for several years, I forgot that Season One – which premiered in 2005! – is, with only six episodes – the shortest of the series’ nine seasons. If I hadn’t started watching it close to 8 PM, I probably could have binge-watched all six, then bragged, in typical “Dwight Shrute” fashion, that I watched an entire season of a TV comedy series in one night.

Michael Scott: What is the most important thing for a company? Is it the cash flow? Is it the inventory? Nuh-uh. It’s the people. The people. My proudest moment here was not when I increased profits by 17% or when I cut expenses without losing a single employee. No, no, no, no, no. It was a young Guatemalan guy. First job in the country, barely spoke English. He came to me, and said, “Mr. Scott, would you be the godfather of my child?” Wow. Wow. Didn’t work out. We had to let him go. He sucked.

Anyway, yeah. I thought the quality of the pilot episode was excellent, and the acting was brilliant.

(C) 2020 Universal Studios

I did not watch The Office during its 2005-2013 run on NBC: I knew it existed because my mom subscribed to TV Guide until her death in 2015, and the magazine often published articles about the show and – not surprisingly – its breakout “will they or won’t they” couple, Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer).

I don’t usually follow “fads” – which is why I didn’t want to see Star Wars right after it came out or wore trendy clothes back when I was a young adult – and since “Jim and Pam” was a media fad, I wasn’t exactly enthused about The Office. Then in 2010 Mom got sick and my television-watching habits changed along with my daily routine, and I forgot the show even existed until The Caregiver’s middle son recommended that we watch it.

I don’t have much else in the way of news to share, so I’ll close for now. Until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Book Review: ‘The Lions of Leningrad’ (2022)

Cover art by Thomas Du Caju (C) 2022 Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press

Title: The Lions of Leningrad (2022)

Written by: Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem

Art by: Thomas Du Caju

Translated by: Joseph Laredo

Publisher: Dead Reckoning (an imprint of the Naval Institute Press)

Reviewer’s Note:  I received a copy of The Lions of Leningrad from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of this compilation book, with no expectations other than a fair assessment of the material.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
(C) 2022 Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press

On March 16, 2022, Dead Reckoning, the Naval Institute Press’ graphic novel imprint, published The Lions of Leningrad, a compilation of Belgian writer Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem’s The Lions of Leningrad – Volume I: I Am Chapayev (2019)and The Lions of Leningrad – Volume II: City of Death (2021). Set in the Soviet Union in two different eras – the frame story is set in January 1962, while the main narrative is set during the Siege of Leningrad (September 8, 1941-January 27, 1944) and immediately after.

Cover art by Thomas Du Caju. (C) 2019 Europe Comics/Dupuis

Originally written in French as Les souris de Leningrad (I: Je suis Chapayev and II: La ville de morts) and featuring art by Thomas de Caju, The Lions of Leningrad tells the story of four Russian teenagers – Anka, Pyotr, Maxim, and Grigory – who are among the millions of Soviet citizens who are shocked when the armies of Nazi Germany invade the Soviet Union on Sunday, June 22, 1941. It is both a coming-of-age story and a vivid – and sometimes chilling – account of the 872-day blockade of the Soviet Union’s second largest city and the costliest, most gruesome siege in history.[1]

Here’s the cover of Volume 2, City of Death, by artist Thomas Du Caju. (C) 2021 Europe Comics/Dupuis

From the Publisher:

On January 27, 1962, a concert at the Maly Theatre in Leningrad is interrupted by a gunshot and an ex-state prisoner is arrested. At the police station, the mysterious gunman recalls the early summer of 1941… When the German army begins its invasion of Soviet Russia, four children are evacuated to the countryside: Maxim, the son of a senior Communist Party official; Pyotr, the son of writers; Anka, the daughter of a concert violinist; and Grigory, the son of a pilot that was executed for insubordination. The farm where they are staying is attacked and the train that is supposed to take them to safety is blown to bits by German planes. The four children must fight through enemy lines to get back to their families in Leningrad. But all that awaits them is the beginning of one of the most prolonged and destructive sieges in history. Two and half desperate years that will push their friendship – and their lives–to the limit. – The Lions of Leningrad, back cover blurb

In this video, The Armchair Historian examines the Siege of Leningrad.

My Take

The Lions of Leningrad is a combination of Young Adult (YA) fiction and history primer about one of the darkest episodes of the Second World War. Originally published in Europe between 2019 and 2021 as a two-volume series, it eschews the conventional approach of telling a war story through the eyes of soldiers, airmen, sailors, or marines and focuses instead on the experiences of those who tend to suffer the most in any war – the civilians, especially children and young adults.

Even though I suspect that Van Rijckeghem’s quartet of friends – the beautiful Anka, the intense Grigory, the quiet but stalwart Maxim, and the extroverted but shady Pyotr – is a fictional creation, the details of the Siege of Leningrad are not. And those details, ranging from the constant bombing raids by the Luftwaffe and artillery bombardment from the Germans’ Army Group North to the venal machinations of NKVD informers, Communist Party officials who trade food rations and other benefits to gain sexual favors from women, and the bands of cannibals who stalk young children to kidnap them, kill them, and eat their flesh.

(C) 2022 Dead Reckoning/Naval Institute Press

All four of The Lions of Leningrad’s main characters are the same age – 15 when the book begins, and between 17 and 18 when the central story ends – so many tropes of the YA genre can be found in Van Rijckeghem’s tale. Whether it’s the depiction of Anka, Maxim, Grigory, and Pyotr’s last bit of rambunctious childhood play – when we first meet them as teens on the last day of spring 1941, they are ardent Communist youths playing “Bolsheviks vs. Tsarists” in Farmer Ivan’s potato field.

In the early scenes of The Lions of Leningrad, which introduces the cast that we follow throughout The Lions of Leningrad, we see how Communist indoctrination shapes their worldview – the kids use a lot of Stalin era jargon, such as “He is a capitalist, not a farmer!” and “That’s just American propaganda. Tarzan doesn’t exist.” – and their belief that whatever the Party says must be true.

Take for instance this exchange between Anka and Maxim:

Anka: Hey, did you hear that the Party’s sending us to the countryside?

Maxim: Only if we’re attacked. But the Germans won’t get this far.

But the Germans do attack, and many children from Leningrad are evacuated to the countryside, including Anka and the three boys, who end up in a communal farm outside Lychkovo, where we see them next on July 18, 1941.

Here, Van Rijckeghem’s narrative takes a fateful turn. It begins with a humorous scene in which the foursome, bored and full of adolescent energy and hormones, decides to jump into a nearby river from a railway bridge. There, the boys tease – or compliment – Anka about her budding breasts (“They’ve really grown!” says one when she stands with her arms akimbo, wearing only her underwear) and dive into the river like the kids in Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me. There’s even a bit when Maxim pretends to “drown” so he can kiss Anka whilst she gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

But when one of the many trains used by the Soviet government to evacuate civilians or carry troops to the front line – the story is rather vague here – is bombed by German Heinkel 111 bombers, the fun ends and the horrors of war touch the quartet of friends.

Evading the panzer spearheads and using guile, abandoned weapons, and sheer guts, the kids fight their way into Leningrad shortly before the German Army Group North captures the town of Mga and cuts off the city’s land links to the rest of the Soviet Union. Now, the three million inhabitants of the “Cradle of the Russian Revolution” must endure nearly 900 days of siege, with unimaginable horrors that will leave deep scars in the psyche of the Russian people – and forever alter the lives of the story’s main characters.

Considering that this compilation volume was published at a most inopportune time – Vladimir Putin’s autocratic regime invaded Ukraine just a few weeks before Dead Reckoning’s March 16 release date – The Lions of Leningrad is still a good graphic novel done in the style of postwar European war comic books. It examines various aspects of life in both the eras of Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev, including such details as how even an apolitical criticism of Soviet military equipment in the prewar years could get you labeled as an “enemy of the state” and death by firing squad, or how even friends could steal your identity and take your place in Soviet society in a life-or-death situation.

The sequences set in the Siege of Leningrad show average Russian citizens and Party officials both at their best and their worst. When the blockade begins, Anka, Pyotr, Grigory, Maxim, and Grigory’s loyal dog Petrov are inseparable and bravely endure bombing raids and artillery barrages. After the Germans destroy the Badayev Warehouse, where Leningrad’s Party bosses unwisely stored most of the city’s food reserves, the bonds of friendship – and budding sexual attraction – are strained as the kids are forced to become adults – fast – while Leningrad becomes a “city of the dead.”

Although Van Rijckeghem and artist Thomas Du Caju don’t show any nudity, there are quite a few references to sex and other adult themes. Obviously, Anka is at the center of a rivalry between Maxim and Pyotr, the two boys that vie for her attention. But there’s also the sexual exploitation of Grigory’s widowed mother by a local Party Secretary – who also happens to be married to a woman who left for Moscow in the early days of the evacuation. The Party man showers her with affection, food, and other perks, and Grigory’s lonely mother ends up falling for him, but he refuses to leave his wife for her.

There are plenty of shady characters in The Lions of Leningrad; some of them are already corrupt and mean, like the foul Leningrad policeman who is obsessed with arresting Grigory simply because his late father – a Red Air Force pilot who was shot for “insubordination” during Stalin’s purges of the military – was an enemy of the state.

Other antagonists are men and women who are trapped in the besieged city, and with faced with the possibility of death by starvation, are desperately looking for anything – or anyone – to eat. No living beings, not even dogs – or children – are safe in the frozen, bomb-and-shell pocked streets of Leningrad.

Many people in the West do not know much about the war on the Eastern Front; the focus in the Anglophone nations that were belligerents in World War II is on the theaters where American, British, and Commonwealth forces fought: Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. Some of the battles in the Soviet-German War are covered, of course, but usually, most books on this huge theater of operations focus on the drive on Moscow, the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, and, of course, the climactic Battle of Berlin.

Sure, there have been several books about the Siege of Leningrad, including 1969’s The 900 Days by Harrison Salisbury. But Cold War tensions and jingoism on the part of most Western readers combined to create a lack of interest about the Soviet involvement in World War II, so to many American readers who are not World War II buffs, the real-life horrors depicted in The Lions of Leningrad will be shocking.

I recommend The Lions of Leningrad, even though it was published at a time when the Soviet Union’s heir, the Russian Federation, is waging a war of aggression against a neighboring state and, by extension, the West at large. It’s an interesting story of friendship, loss, betrayal, and the human will to survive. Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem writes a riveting – if perhaps a bit overwrought at times – coming of age story, and the illustrations by Thomas Du Caju are nicely drawn and colored in a classic comic book style.  


[1] According to the Wikipedia entry on the Siege of Leningrad, total Soviet casualties (dead, wounded, or missing) are estimated to be approximately three million. Including one million civilians who died either within the Leningrad city limits or during the evacuation ordered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin and other Communist Party leaders.

On Trump-Era Politics: Flags, Pledges, Memes, and Damnable Conservative Lies

Image by DWilliam from Pixabay 

“One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is the alacrity with which intelligent people embrace stupidity.”― Stuart Stevens, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump

Over the past few years – and certainly during the 2020 Presidential election process –  Facebook and Twitter users have noticed a flood of right-wing memes and shitposts that make outrageous and patently false claims.

Because 2020 saw the unhappy and toxic confluence of the global COVID-19 pandemic and another U.S. election cycle in the Donald Trump era, most of these memes either made false, dangerous, and reckless claims about the novel coronavirus, or they were bogus claims about the integrity of our country’s election system. Taking their cue from the then-President Trump, right-wingers and trolls worked overtime to come up with memes rife with myths, distortions, and outright lies about how the “evil left” hates America and wants to destroy everything that represents American culture, society, and values.

One particular meme that has been making the rounds since at least the fall of 2020 claims that the Pledge of Allegiance – which is “an expression of allegiance to the flag of the United States and the Republic of the United States of America,” according to Wikipedia – is no longer recited at the start of each school day by teachers and students in American public schools.

While it is true that four states out of 50 – California, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wyoming – do not have mandatory recitations of the Pledge in public schools, the truth is that in the other 46 states, including the very Republican-run Florida, students still hear the “Call to Colors” bugle call, recite the Pledge of Allegiance that was adopted by Congress on June 22, 1942, six months after the entry of the United States in World War II.

There have been several versions of the Pledge since Francis Bellamy, a socialist Christian minister from Rome, New York, wrote the first Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition that commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. As part of a movement to place an American flag in every schoolhouse in the country, Bellamy wrote this:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1942, Congress adopted a revised version of the Pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Nearly 12 years later, at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, conservatives in Congress and elsewhere decided it was necessary to make a contrast between a “Christian” America and the atheist Soviet Union, which was then in a Cold War with the U.S. and the West. On Flag Day (June 14) of 1954, the U.S. Flag Code was amended, and the Pledge was given its final version, which is still in use today:

Per the U.S. Flag Code:

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

This was the Pledge that I recited, sometimes with enthusiasm and conviction, and sometimes bleary-eyed, sleepy, and by rote, every school day from the start of the 1972-73 school year (when I began third grade at Coral Park Elementary School) to the end of the 1982-83 school year (when I graduated from South Miami Senior High School).

“The truth is messy. It’s raw and uncomfortable. You can’t blame people for preferring lies.”Holly Black, Red Glove

While it is true that politics is not exactly a human endeavor known for its commitment to honesty, good-faith behavior, or candor, it is fair to say that what passes for conservatism in the United States (indeed, in most of the Anglophone world) is an exercise in deceit, exaggeration, and deliberate intent to spread disinformation and get the “base” riled up.

Image by chayka1270 from Pixabay 

And because conservatives here, there, and everywhere hold certain beliefs that are normally positive and admirable, such as love of country, loyalty, and affection for national symbols, the one surefire way to get conservatives angry is to accuse the opposition – which is always described in such pejorative terms as the “evil left,” “Communists,” or “hateful liberals” – of doing everything it can to “destroy our Nation and its freedoms.”

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” Joseph Heller, Catch-22

This morning, I came across a meme, created by what I politely call a “Republican-leaning” group on Facebook, suggesting (without explicitly saying it outright) that the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer said in American public schools.

The meme (which features an old-timey 1950s-era photo like the one below) doesn’t outright say, “The evil leftists that hate America took the Pledge of Allegiance out of our schools!”

Image grabbed from Facebook

No. The way the meme is worded is more insidious, especially if you are (like me) someone who uses words for a living and knows how propaganda is created.

Rather than claim outright that liberals (a group that includes ME) have eradicated the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools, the clever propagandists wrote something like “Remember when we used to do this in schools every day?” (I should have copied the text, but there are many variants of it floating online. See illustration below for a typical right-wing “Pledge lie.)

This illustration is often accompanied by a statement that reads, “We NO LONGER Do this Because it MIGHT Offend Someone. I Bet No One Else Posts This!” Image Credit: Pinterest

The unspoken – but clearly understood – subtext in these memes is:

“OMG, they took the Pledge of Allegiance out of the public schools!”

Below that meme, two Cuban-American men, who vote GOP, wrote:

“They need to bring it back.”

“They don’t say the Pledge anymore.”

Mind you. These comments were written by two men in their late 50s who more than likely have not seen the inside of a public-school classroom since they graduated from high school in the early 1980s. If they are like many of my friends with young adult children, they do not know every detail about their kids’ daily routine when they were in high school, either.

Many conservatives – especially those who are 50 or older – tend to believe what right-wing media tells them. And one of the most insidious lies that the right is pushing (among so many of them) is that the “left” has eradicated the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

So. Not. True.

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