The War College is the third and final installment in Ezra Sidran's Universal Military Simulator series of tactical war games.
The simulation's core principle is a departure from traditional turn-based, hex tile mechanics towards real-time rendering of unit movement on accurately recreated topographical maps of historical battlefields. The presentation remains highly abstract, with units represented as colored lines and combat resolved in short text messages.
The game simulates four major historical battles:
The Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC)
In the decisive battle of the Roman Civil War, Julius Caesar meets Gnaeus Pompejus at Pharsalos on August 9th 48 BC. The battle is fought with melee units only. Caesar defeats Pompejus and becomes emperor of the Rome.
The Battle of Austerlitz (1805)
The French army under Napoleon defeats the combined armies of the Russians and Austrians in the Battle of the Three Emperors at Austerlitz in December 1805. Austerlitz is a classic Napolean maneuver battle.
The Battle of Antietam (1862)
Confederate general Robert E. Lee's advance is stopped by the Union army under general George B. McClellan in the battle at Antietam in September 1862. It is one of the major battles of the American Civil War.
The Battle of Tannenberg (1914)
In one of the rare maneuver battle of World War I, the German Eight army defeats a Russian contingent vastly superior in numbers in August 1914.
The War College players control their armies with only a basic set of unit commands (movement, formation and fortification), but need to consider advanced tactical elements such as morale, experience and ammunition. While the terrain influences movement speed and combat efficiency, terrain types are not clearly indicated on the abstract maps. In tradition of the UMS series, combat formulas can be customized.
As the title implies, The War College is supposed to be an educative simulation for tactical study of historical battles rather than a pure game. With the program comes a digital encyclopedia containing basic background information on the four conflicts, complemented by artworks and period photographs. In addition, The War College features a multiplayer mode so that two strategists can compete over modem or local area network.
The War College is the third and last entry in the revolutionary but never-caught-on Universal Military Simulator (UMS) series, first released in 1988 by Rainbird. Similar to two previous UMS games, The War College is different from "typical" wargames in that it uses real-time terrain, with realistic maps that have been meticulously reproduced from both historical accounts and satellite surveys; every road, stream, hillside, and valley has a precise and accurate effect on movement, observation, and combat. Some wargamers are going to find this initially off-putting, but the more you play, the more you will (hopefully) come to appreciate the designer's efforts. By setting waypoints and unit facings, you can execute broad, sweeping maneuvers or zoom in close to deal with surprise movements by the enemy. Modem and network play are supported, although old fashioned two-player action on one machine -- the classic "hot-seat" option -- is not.
The four battles included in the initial package (promised add-ons unfortunately never materialized) cover four classic eras of military history: Caesar and Pompey duke it out melee-style at Pharsalus; Napoleon out-maneuvers the Allies at Austerlitz; Lee and McLellan savage each other at Antietam; and the outnumbered Germans take on the "Russian Steamroller" at Tannenberg in 1914.
Each battle is supported by an excellent interactive historical reference section, filled with hyperlinked subjects you can explore in great detail. If you access the Austerlitz section, for instance, you'll find 44 topics in the table of contents; very impressive indeed.
Obviously, this program is aimed at the serious student of military history rather than the casual gamer. Beginners to the genre should be able to get the hang of the game pretty quickly, however, thank to its friendly user interface and excellent references. Overall, The War College is a mature, deep, thoughtful simulation that embodies a radical departure from the wargaming norm. The AI is none too bright, but the game does introduce many innovative features that unfortunately not picked upon in later games. Recommended to all armchair commanders, but be warned of the less-than-intelligent AI.
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