Practicing Tactics via Armored Brigade

Armored Brigade is a real-time tactical level wargame focused on combined arms land operations and armored warfare. Armored Brigade was first released in 2008 by developers Veitikka Studios as a freeware game, the last freeware version was released in 2016 before it was acquired by Matrix Games. Veitikka Studios improved on many aspects of the game with the new resources provided by Matrix, before Armored Brigade got re-released on November 15, 2018.

We will take a closer look at Armored Brigade and see if and how it is suitable for deliberate practice for tactical excellence.

Disclaimer: For this review, I was provided with a copy of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games.

General Information

Armored Brigade is approximately set during the Cold War, and the playable time period is 1965-1991. The base game comes with seven playable nations (US, USSR, West Germany, East Germany, the UK, Finland, and Poland). However, the database editor (see below) provides the opportunity to edit existing nations or add new ones to the game.

The ready to play missions that come with the game

Armored Brigade is set up as a tactical sandbox: there are 15 playable ready to play missions set in Germany, but they are not tied together in a scenario. Unfortunately, there is no way to sort the missions by size; i.e. The size of the force one commands. New missions can be generated easily in case the existing ones are not enough, and the player can fully decide the conditions of those missions. Four regions (the US National Training Center at Fort Irwin, the north German plain, the Fulda Gap, and south-east Finland) can be used to pick the mission map, and the player has full power to decide on the relative size and composition of his own and enemy forces. This works via a points-based system: the player decides how many points each side gets and then units can be either bought with points by the player or randomly selected by the AI.

Mission Generator – Picking the Map
Mission Generator – Nations, Date, Weather
Mission Generator – Point Allocation
Mission Generator – Buying Units

Armored Brigade comes with a database editor that gives access to the underlying database and permits customization. Anyone who is interested can adjust weapon’s and vehicles performance or add new nations.

Database Editor

Graphics and sounds are what you would expect from most wargames: pleasant top-down view on a map with standard NATO symbols for units. There are tiny mistakes here and there, for example, German Jäger units have mechanized infantry symbols even though Jäger are motorized infantry and therefore “only” get the normal infantry symbol. The elevation lines that can be toggled on and off are also very hard to see. Other than that, graphics and sound is not over the top, but also not bad. For a game of this scope, this is all that is needed. No need for fancy graphics and crazy explosions.

Graphics

Armored Brigade lacks a multiplayer option. Many will see this as a drawback, however, I think initially it was the right decision to exclude this option and focus on single player. I assume that Veitikka Studios had limited resources and they invested them well. I am sure that multiplayer will be added with later updates and I don’t miss it right now.

Gameplay

The appeal of Armored Brigade is, much like with Command Ops 2, its focus on actually commanding units and formations, not individual vehicles or squads. The player gives orders by selecting a unit, right-clicking, and picking the order he wants. Sure, individual vehicles can be ordered around, but that is highly discouraged. Armored Brigade ensures that that doesn’t happen via command delay.

Giving Orders

Command delay is a way of abstractly representing friction on the battlefield. In the real world little mishaps add up to cause considerable friction or misunderstanding, radios don’t work, orders are misunderstood, troops are tired, etc. When giving orders in Armored Brigade, there is a little delay between actually giving the order and troops acting according to the order. When giving orders to individual vehicles, squads, or anything else below the level of the formation in the mission, the command delay is significantly higher. This way Armored Brigade encourages pre-planning and discourages micromanagement.

Command Delay for Formations, here a platoon
Command Delay for a single vehicle, notice it is higher than for a formation

Formations can be platoons or companies. However, I find that choosing companies as formations is unwieldy as the AI is not (yet) capable to do complex company-level maneuvers. It is best to pick platoon-sized formations (when possible) to make sure that operation plans don’t get too simplistic and brutish.

Another feature is Standard Operating Procedures: the player can determine SOPs for formations leading to formations acting upon those. For example, pathfinding for formations can be set to quickest, shortest, or covered, and the formation will act differently depending on the SOPs. This permits a high level of customization and behavior that is suited to the unique tactical situation.

The AI

The AI is the part that makes Armored Brigade unique. The developers‘ goals were to create a game that would enable players to manage the battle, not micromanage individual units. Initially, I was very excited about this part. One of my biggest criticism of Combat Commander: Black Sea is the fact that you have to micromanage every single vehicle, making sure tanks switch positions after shooting, making sure that vehicles get into hull-down positions etc. So when I heard there is a game that wants to prevent this level of micromanagement…wow, sign me up!

My initial enthusiasm turned into disappointments when the AI did not manage units the way I wanted it to. After some experimenting and a lot of playing, I realized this: my expectations on the AI go way beyond what is technologically possible today. So I gave Armored Brigade’s AI another chance, and have come to the following conclusion.

Armored Brigade has a relatively strong AI. The hard part is learning how to manage it in order to have it do what you want. And the best way of doing that is using the mission generator to small engagements (preferably at the National Training Center…you know just for atmosphere) with small forces and try out every order type and everything else to thoroughly familiarize oneself with the AI.

Once familiar with how the AI behaves, ordering units around and having them do exactly what you want becomes a piece of cake.

Conclusion

I give Armored Brigade 4 out of 5 stars. It is a good game, one of the very few games that let the player manage the battle and not micromanage his units (other than Armored Brigade and Command Ops I don’t know of any other that do this).

There are a few things that need improvement, the addition of a multiplayer mode is one of them. Also, I’d like to see the option to set phases, permitting to coordinate your forces even better.

However, Armored Brigade is a good game even without these features or a few kinks here and there. I think that it can be a great addition to any wargamer’s or military professional’s collection and a great way to practice tactics via deliberate practice!

You can get Armored Brigade here from Matrix games, and also check out the official Armored Brigade website!

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