Disclaimer: I was provided with review copies of both nation packs as well as the original game earlier.
This is a review of the Nation Packs Italy & Yugoslavia, Belgium & France and the updates to the base game that came with them. For more information on Armored Brigade, see my review of the base game here.
This year saw the release of two nation packs for Armored Brigade, the first one being Nation Pack Italy & Yugoslavia in May and Belgium & France following in October/November. According to Matrix Games, over 250 new units and aircraft covering a timeframe from 1965-1991 are added by the first nation pack. These include such beauties like the (German made) Italian Leopard 1A1 and A2 versions, VCC-1 and -2 IFV, Alpini and Carabinieri, Yugoslav naval infantry and airborne infantry, and many more. The second nation pack adds another 200 units, like Belgian Fusilier and reserve troops, or the French AMX-30B2 tank, as well as two new Cold War gone hot scenarios. Furthermore, both nation packs enlarge the playable map, the first one adding the Italian-Yugoslav border regions and the second the Ardennes.
The new units and maps are great additions to the base game. The added units provide the opportunity to test new equipment, see how it can be tactically employed and learn about their benefits and drawbacks. This gives players the opportunity to experience some of the opportunities and constraints that commanders of these nations had. The new maps add immense geographic diversity to Armored Brigade! Players can test their tactical acumen as well as new (and old) equipment on a wide array of environmental conditions. Dense forest, river systems, mountainous terrain, cities, and much more is added. This includes a coastline and the islands off of it, like the island chains around Laguna di Marano. Maybe future updates will make it possible to play amphibious landings? The potential is there and creative use of the Mission Editor allows to simulate attacks after amphibious landings.
The Mission Editor is still a useful assistant in testing these possibilities. Sure, there are scenarios that can be played, but the real fun is designing your own missions and playing a scenario that is exactly tailored to your needs. The Mission Editor is easy and intuitive to use, getting up and running with a new mission is a very quick and low effort event. Many different missions can be played in a short amount of time, the cost for getting started is low.
Secretly, one can say almost sneakily, the developers have added another function to the base game with the (free) update that came along with the first nation pack: a Campaign Editor! This is a gamechanger! The Campaign Editor permits the lightning fast creation of dynamic campaigns, i.e. several interconnected battles featuring the same core force. The user interface looks much the same as that of the Mission Editor. First, you need to pick the area of operations (the big map, like Ardennes or Fulda Gap). Then, deviating from the Mission Editor, you pick waypoints along which your campaign is supposed to take place. There is no limit to the number of waypoints (or at least I couldn’t find one). The Campaign Editor automatically picks maps (“sectors”) along your chosen waypoints. If you don’t like the selection you can have the Editor re-do the process by clicking “Random Sectors”. The Editor also picks engagement types by the waypoints selected, which influence different bonuses and the base points of the player and the enemy. Much the same as in the Mission Editor, units can be selected and added to your own units. However, these units now constitute your core units, they will not be automatically replaced upon destruction but have to be “bought” with supply points. Force preservation becomes a factor. Each battle’s outcome influences the subsequent battle; location, force make up, supply points, etc. are determined by the outcome. This permits access to a whole bunch of unused features (at least unused by me up to this point): the side that has been defeated has to retreat, but having shortened their supply lines in doing so, they get a supply bonus. Now they have become the defenders in the next battle and can start the battle with dug-in units. Additionally, obstacles can be purchased by the defender. The Campaign Editor is truly dynamic and adds flair to the feel of the campaign and gameplay. One problematic aspect is the fact that Armored Brigade focuses on the tactical level, however operational considerations have to be accounted for by the player without the player being able to influence them. For example, when the mission calls for an attack and taking a certain objective, this objective has to be taken. Obviously, a higher-level commander would consider the importance of the objective and make sure he doesn’t waste his forces on an unimportant mission. Furthermore, a higher-level commander would also decide, in the face of overwhelming enemy defenses, to attack at another place. Players do not have this choice. However, I don’t think this is the developers’ fault. They were trying to provide a way of quickly designing and playing dynamic campaigns. I think they succeeded at that and I can’t imagine another way of solving this problem.
One thing I’d like to see added is the option of further influencing the type of campaign, for example the types of engagements. Since the Editor more or less defines the type of engagement, certain aspects of the campaign cannot be customized. This is in so far realistic that tactical commanders seldom had great influence on the type of operation they need to conduct, however this takes away some of the possibilities of how to play out a campaign. For example, I have not found out how to start a campaign with a series of defensive battle that culminate in a counterattack and then a drive deep into enemy territory (which would be an interesting campaign to play out). Another small addition that would improve the Mission and Campaign Editors is a way to do a deeper terrain analysis on the initial screen when choosing a map.
The positive updates don’t stop here. I am not sure if it was already there and I just wasn’t aware of it, but I could swear this is a new feature. Your units require even less micromanagement than before, and certainly much less than in any other game! Units automatically take cover if there is viable cover near-by that permits them to keep their area of observation. Sure, it is not perfect, but it works well. It is great to see that Armored Brigade stays true to minimizing micromanagement and focusing on the big picture tactical situation. What I’d like to see in the future is units automatically changing positions after firing to another position that lets them cover the same approximate area. Right now, tanks, IFV, etc. will stay in a static position and engage the enemy from there, making them much better targets. I think improvements in this direction will further improve Armored Brigade.
I love the direction that Armored Brigade is taking. The developers are making all the right decisions, focusing on the right things. With its emphasis on the big picture tactical situation, freeing players from micromanaging, its great Mission Editor and now the addition of the Campaign Editor Armored Brigade is truly becoming a powerful teaching and learning tool.