I LIKE wargames. I mean "real" wargames: the kind played on big tables with a pitcher of suds at hand. I like big, folding maps and little squares of cardboard with tank symbols on them. I like Special Consolidated Assault Rules with ten subclauses and an extra attacker/defender modifier chart. I have one entire bookcase full of box games from Avalon Hill, West End, GMT, The Gamers, GDW, Victory, and TSR, games like Terrible Swift Sword, Stalingrad Pocket, Invasion Norway, and Squad Leader.
I point all this out so that you know I'm not a gamer who's afraid of complex rule systems and cumbersome game mechanics.
Despite my enthusiasm for the finer details, I never quite got into Avalon Hill's popular Third Reich games, grand strategic titles involving the entire European Theatre of World War II and all its many combatants. There have been five editions of the original Third Reich, and I'm pretty sure several editions of Advanced Third Reich. I found them too weighty and ponderous in their mechanics, and too heavily slanted toward resource management. Resource management is an admittedly important part of any grand strategy game, whether it's Axis and Allies or Pacific War; what units you buy, how you allocate resources, and how you win the "money war" underpins any clash of armed forces. But how it's handled, in the many phases and rules and subrules, is where things can get convoluted.
And it's certainly where the computer game version of Third Reich gets bogged down, among many other swampy sink holes along the road. Third Reich puts you in charge of either the Axis forces (Germany, Italy, and anyone they conquer along the way) or the Allies (everyone else, including Russia, England, America, France, and so on). Eastern Front, Western Front, and the Mediterranean (including North Africa) are all featured, with scenarios for 1939, 1942, 1944, and the entire war. You can play against the computer or against a friend side-by-side. There is no modem play - one of many fatal flaws.
It would be the slow road to madness to even begin to describe the tangled net of rules and subrules that govern play. There are so many action and reaction phases that two acronym-crippled manuals (one to tell you how to play and another to translate the first manual into more comprehensible gibberish) are required. The main unit of currency is the Basic Resource Point (BRP) which allows you to perform actions and buy units. The relatively simple act of placing a unit representing a German tank on the board and getting that tank to kill a unit representing some Frenchmen (hey, if it was realistic the French would just run away when they heard the oompah music) is surrounded by numerous phases, each separate and distinct: declaration of war, voluntary destruction of units, naval interception and counter-interception, overstacking elimination, DAS interception and combat-phase air/naval counter-interception, supercalifragilisticexpealidocious. Little boxes pop up asking for decisions, and angry messages and internal-speaker beeps hound you when you don't do the right thing RIGHT AWAY. In the most aggravating example of computer nagging this side of e-mail from your ex-girlfriend, a snotty little message pops up saying "Waiting for user input!!!!" if you don't click a button in five seconds. Who the hell thought that was a good idea?
It has taken years for Third Reich to get to the PC from its fitful starts on Commodore and, I believe, Amiga. This thing has been around longer than Battlecruiser 3000 AD, and shows its age badly. The system is easily the most cumbersome, user-hostile, graceless, and ugly piece of work to come down the pike since the days of CGA. The large paper map from the board game has been slapped onto computer AS IS, with one zoom mode that's too close to give the big picture, and a wider zoom mode that's out too far to be of any use whatsoever. There's only the faintest attempt made at any introduction and no graphic embellishments at all. Actual combat tables from the game are included as pop-up boxes for those of you who are queer for math and want to calculate your own combat modifiers before the computer does it for you. The manuals are detailed and colorful - a boon of sorts, considering the poor manuals that come with most games - but they're also written with all the liveliness of a doctoral dissertation on hermeneutics and the deconstruction of the mother-image in Proust. Doctors use this sort of thing on insomniacs who don't respond to strong drugs.
Worst of all, considering this is a wargame for hard-core wargamers (no one else would even give it a second glance) it is woefully easy to trounce the AI, which has a tendency to do stupid things like have England send all their guys to North Africa while the Nazis are browsing at Harrods. Plus, turns take forever and a day to finish, especially when the AI moves. There are large go-make-a-cheese-and-pickle-sandwich periods during which you sit there watching ugly counters move on an ugly screen, wishing your mom had bought you another game. Even Mode.
Look, there's a way to do a deep, complex game of grand WWII strategy without such a crippling system and an overwhelming torrent of extraneous detail and poorly explained rules. A game by people who give a damn what the experience of the user is. The only people who would even be faintly interested in this are friendless Third Reich nuts. Hell, at least when you play the Third Reich board game it's a social experience, and you can follow as many or as few of the rules as you want.
Clash of Steel and even High Command are both now available in The Definitive Wargame Collection 2 from SSI, and both are still readily playable, deep, and, though published years ago, better-looking and more user-friendly than Third Reich. Avalon Hill has taken a long time to make a game that is essentially a rules set on computer. Their good name as the leading publisher of wargames warrants better than that.
People who downloaded Third Reich have also downloaded:
Steel Panthers 2: Modern Battles, V for Victory, Gary Grigsby's World At War, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Steel Panthers, Steel Panthers 3: Brigade Command (1939-1999), Civil War Generals 2, V for Victory: Market Garden
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