Battle Isle

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I want to preface this by saying that I don’t like Panzer General and its imitators. As much as I wanted to like Unity of Command (smart-looking indie operational wargames being all but nonexistent), I couldn’t get over its fundamental, sterile panzer-general-ness. A repetitive, abstract pursuit of perfection is exactly what I don’t want in a wargame.

Bluebyte’s Battle Isle series, in all its simplified hex-and-counter glory, seems like an odd place to find inspiration, then. While it certainly could be a bit plodding,  Battle Isle (or at least Battle Isle III, which is the one I played to death many years ago) has always fascinated me because of its emphasis on information, logistics and the environment.

A few anecdotes. My troops are driving north through a frozen island, rolling up the enemy defences, when the lake freezes hard. Enemy units pour across the channel from a nearby island, forcing me to halt operations and desperately try to cover my exposed flank, ploughing light tanks through the deep snow to blaze a trail for slower units.

An armoured advance comes to a grinding halt when heavy rains set in and the open plains turn to mud. My tanks burn fuel at a tremendous rate moving through the quagmire, and my fuel trucks are completely stuck. I eventually manage to rescue my logistics column by building emergency roads with my engineers while I hold off enemy probes with helicopters and artillery.

My forces completely outclass the enemy and are driving south toward their supply bases, but there’s a problem. Somewhere, they have a well-supplied long-range missile launcher that is decimating my forward units. Heavy tanks no longer count for much: my first priority is to find the enemy launch site, which means trying to pry open screening forces long enough that I can find and kill the thing without my raiders being savaged.

Mechanically, the game was simpler than it sounds, and it’s a testament to Blue Byte’s solid design that I began to appreciate this complexity as I played through the campaign. Discovering hidden interactions between strategy and the weather was a revelation, and I’ve never played anything quite like it since. Also, I’ve always found the terrain art oddly charming.

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