John Tiller's Campaign Series PC
Published by: Matrix Games
Developed by: Talonsoft
The wargame genre certainly isn't one of the most inviting in all honesty. Most games in the genre remain impenetrable for all but the serious grognards and most can be particularly daunting if you’re a newcomer. Over the years I’ve personally found that almost all wargames demand a fair few hours of learning before you can start to feel comfortable with the game and a few hours more before you begin to find yourself enjoying the experience. However, there have been a few exceptions over the years such as Talonsoft’s Eastern Front which was released way back in 1997. I found the game more accessible than any other wargame prior to it.
John Tiller’s Campaign Series is essentially a rerelease of not only Talonsoft’s Eastern Front, Western Front and Rising Sun but also of the content found in Eastern Front II, Western Front: Battle Pack, Western Front: Sea Lion and Rising Sun: Imperial Strike. You're also getting Eastern Front II: Fall of the Reich an official expansion which has never been available for purchase before. Despite their age, these turn-based World War II Talonsoft titles still stand as hugely enjoyable experiences. In total you're getting over three hundred and fifty scenarios, thirty-five nations (some of which have been added for this edition only) and thousands of different units. Not forgetting of course the map and scenario editors and the multiplayer modes such as Play-By-E-mail, LAN and Hot Seat. In fact the overall package represents excellent value for money and can easily be considered a must for any wargamer.
We mentioned earlier that Eastern Front was one of the more accessible wargames and in fact this goes for all of the titles in the Campaign Series as they all share the same game engine and design. What I appreciate most about these games is that in addition to the four AI difficulty levels, you can choose between playing the scenarios and campaigns at Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, Division and Corps command level. Playing at Battalion command level where you have a handful of units allows you to learn the game without being overwhelmed. Once you're comfortable with that you can try your hand with the more complex command levels before finally playing at the Corps command level where you can control hundreds of units and turns can potentially take hours. This is a great way of getting to grips with the game without being too overwhelmed and it also allows you to play the scenarios and campaigns from many different perspectives.
If there’s one aspect of the three games that hasn’t aged well, it’s the visuals. In truth however, none of the games in the Campaign Series were state of the art, from a graphical perspective, when they were originally released. You can view the battlefield in a couple of different ways and neither is ideal. The faux 3D view is probably the most interesting view but it's far from being useful. Unit sprites are far too small and can be difficult to make out against the environment if you don't choose to display the unit bases (and they aren't displayed by default). Unit movement speed in the faux 3D mode also takes too long. Conversely, unit movement in one of the 2D modes is pretty much instantaneous. The good news is that you're able to take advantage of the rather large screen resolutions of today's PC monitors allowing you to see a lot more of the battlefield at a glance than you could when the games were initially released. The user interface seems quite crude by today's standards and certainly doesn't feel adequate when controlling larger forces. Obviously it's easy to find faults with games that are over a decade old in this respect but I suppose the real complaint is that the interface hasn't been improved to make it more accessible for this rerelease.
Given the age and nature of the game I didn't expect there to be many, if any problems for deaf gamers. For the most part this is certainly true but it could have been better. All of the campaign and scenario descriptions and briefings are in text so you'll always be aware of the details for each of them. There is no speech in the game so there is no need for subtitles. During the AI turns, when you're in the faux 3D mode, you're not shown what units are being moved around the sections of the map which are outside of your immediate view. Hearing gamers will hear the units moving around, although this won't help them much in all honesty, but there is no visual information to keep deaf gamers informed or to suggest that enemy units are moving. Thankfully you can choose to highlight units that have just moved and these will have a pinkish outline to them. Of course you can also switch to one of the 2D views prior to ending your turn and then you'll be able to see the enemy moves being carried out. Whilst it's not part of the game, you do get a video tutorial but unfortunately it isn't subtitled. However, you do get a lot of text based material which will help you to get to grips with the game.
In terms of sheer value for money John Tiller's Campaign series is excellent. There are enough campaigns and scenarios here to keep you occupied for years and that's before you begin tinkering with the editors and random battle generators. The game isn't a simply rerelease as plenty of new content has been added and bugs that were in the original releases have been corrected. The games in this Campaign Series run happily even on the most recent computer configurations. In fact the support for the game is on going and updates are still in progress. It's a shame that the appearance of the game hasn't been improved and the interface could definitely have been made more accessible. Any grognard worth their salt however will definitely want to get their hands on this compilation.