After years - I've tried demos of this every year or so since 1999 or so - I finally picked up Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy by Battlefront.

And had my butt handed to me.

OK, I'm used to being in the odd situation of doing better against people than the AI, but in this case it was both a combination of my ignorance of the UI - fixed by reading the manual - and the ins and outs of operations at a squad level vice more abstracted wargames like Panzerblitz. After about seven tries I finally, finally managed to wade through the introductory (though post-tutorial, skipping that was likely my first problem) scenario and defeat it.

The graphics are nothing special - they are merely effective for the job. That said, the job is to provide a fairly realistic representation of combat at the squad level to the level of weapons ballistics, 3D LOS, crew and squad morale, chain of communications for spotters, armor penetration by location for various weapons, and types of weapons carried by various squads in the TO. Before finally winning this engagement I had to learn:

  • Friendly fire isn't. Yeah, I know, but even on my last try, a tanker providing supporting fire didn't, was a few degrees off, and took out a few of the infantry near the path of supporting fire.
  • Tanks without crunchies to screen become carbecues in the face of anti-tank arty and panzerschrecks. Crunchies are especially useful in preventing the latter.
  • Flushing out the bocage for fun and profit also helps cut down on enemy soldiers with RPG's taking you out.
  • Actually, tanks seem best suited as mobile support firing points to keep heads down while the crunchies advance. Thus leading to FFI as indicated above.
  • Popping smoke is not your friend when your spotter is desperately trying to drop mortars on that anti-tank gun position.
  • That spotter? If he's forward, needs a radio to communicate with arty and mortars. And the on-site mortars need a way to talk to him too.
  • Wandering into the open with a tank with a killzone covered by two ATG's is suicide. Find a covered overwatch and then throw tank and MG rounds at where you think the enemy is.
  • Or drop mortars on them. By the way, make sure you stop firing on that bocage line in time to not blow up your own infantry as they advance, but not so early as they get gunned down when the enemy sticks their heads back up.
  • Don't advance into an enemy position without someone keeping their heads down while you move. This applies for infantry and tanks.

Sure, a lot of these I've dealt with in other systems, but almost anything short of ASL or Combat Mission abstracts away a number of these issues.

Anyone interested in a detailed, low-level wargame that isn't a glorified FPS may want to download the relevant demo. The CM engine, now up to revision 4, is also used for two modern era games, one set in Syria, and the other a Nato vs Russian engagement.