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Feb 06

Wargame: Red Dragon — Real Time Tactical Classic Tabletop Warfare

A Take On Modern Combat

The list of modern real time tactical combat games (as opposed to classic building Real Time Strategy or first person shooters) is rather short.  The Wargame series by Eugen Systems is a unique standout in this category.  The first game, Wargame: European Escalation, came out in 2012.  That was followed up by Wargame: Airland Battle in 2013, and the current game, Wargame: Red Dragon. I mention this history because the predecessor games are still quite decent, very similar in mechanics, and offer different maps and single player campaigns.  So if you aren’t sure about trying out Red Dragon, you could go for either or both of the prior games.  Even if you do like Red Dragon, the others are cheap enough (especially with the Franchise Pack) that you could get them as well.


Wargame.  The name itself says what it is.  It plays very much like a real time version of a classic tabletop miniatures wargame.  It is set in a cold war gone hot 1980s-1990s world.  You have individual units on the map — tanks, helicopters, trucks, artillery, and even individual soldiers — brought on the map by a point value system.  The game plays by giving orders to units, or groups of units, which they then carry out.  You have a range of orders for units, more than just move and engage the enemy.  As a tactical game, there is no base building, or building of any kind.  You have a fixed number of units in your battle group (called Deck within the game), and bring them into the game based on their point value.  Better units cost more, but you have a finite number of each type of unit. Once they are used, you cannot get more of them.  This makes the tactical value of survival important.  You may win a fight but lose too many of your best units, and be unable to follow up on your momentary victory to actually win the game.

This has some similarities to the older games World In Conflict and Blitzkrieg.  But Wargame: Red Dragon puts you in the role of the off-map commander of a company or battalion, directing all the forces present on the battlefield represented on the map.  Your forces can range from couple hundred infantry with IFVs to a few hundred infantry supported by dozens of armored vehicles, all of which are individual units on the map.  Infantry is controlled by squad (you can’t give orders to individual soldiers, but each is its own figure).  Vehicle units can be grouped together in formations, making lining up your forces for battle easy.

Easy To Control

The game interface itself is easy to learn.  Placing units and giving orders is easy.  This isn’t a game where rapid repeated actions are helpful or necessary.  You can give units orders and trust them to continue as planned, with only a few things requiring immediate, reflex actions.  If a unit comes under attack, you get an alert and can immediately switch to it to give new orders.  No need to find the units in danger.  As the number of units on the map get larger, keeping up with what every unit can get tricky.  Fortunately, most are just fine either holding locations or attacking the enemy as ordered, no need to babysit every action.

There are a huge number of unit types in this game.  Over 1450 from 17 different nations.  Some of these are either duplicates or similar to other units.  Each nation may field its own version of a given tank or IFV or plane, but the stats are often nearly the same or identical.  Infantry is always purchased with transport vehicles, so each infantry unit + transport is a separate “card” in your force deck.  But no matter, there are still a wide range of units, filling just about every role you could see in a modern battlefield.  The units are not generic either.  Each nation has its own unique mix of characteristics in its units.  There is a lot to learn to become an expert on all units.  The stats on all units are readily available in game, so memorization isn’t required.

Harder To Master

Combat has tremendous depth.  This isn’t just a rock-paper-scissors level of strategy.  The unit roles and stats reflect modern combined arms tactics.  Your modern tank group will destroy enemy ground vehicles easily, but is vulnerable to infantry shooting rockets from ambush, especially from behind, and air attacks.  The terrain on the map provides real cover.  Units, especially infantry, can hide in forests, behind hills, or in and behind buildings.  Recon units are essential to locate enemy forces.  If you can’t see the enemy, you can’t shoot them.  It is not only practical but effective to move units out of sight to flank the enemy, and place units in good hiding locations to ambush them.

But then you have air and artillery units, which can strike units at just about any location on the map.  They themselves are vulnerable — air to air defense units, artillery to airstrikes, other artillery, and things like an airborne ranger force landing behind them.

There are a choice of victory conditions, but the typical game begins with each side having one Zone on the map, their original deployment zone.  You move command units into other zones on the map — suitably supported so they don’t get destroyed — in order to take control of them.  Each zone has its own reinforcement point value — the central areas most fought over are worth the most usually — and some also have extra value because they open up new areas for off-map reinforcements to enter.  With roughly even play, both sides will have roughly the same value of controlled Zones.  That makes the side which best preserves its forces, especially its best units, while eliminating the enemy the one most likely to win.

But not always.  Good tactics, especially good sneaky moves, can snatch victory from defeat, or at least hold a bad situation to a draw.  The game plays fairly fast as well.  A typical game may be 20-40 minutes long.   Action tends to be constant throughout the game, and keeps the player attention focused and tense until the very end.

Big Multiplayer

The game has a single player campaign, but it is built around multiplayer play.  The single player skirmish mode is just a multiplayer setup with an AI (and game speed controls).  Wargame offers not just one on one play, but allowed teams of two to four players (with AI fillers if needed), and even 10 vs 10 games.  In a team game, each player on the team gets a share of the reinforcement points — both the initial force and those earned in the game.  By dividing the forces on the map between different players, it makes it easier for each to keep focused on their own part of the map.  It also allows each to use their own preferred choice of units.

Create Your Own Battlegroup

That leads to the other special part of Wargame.  Deck building.  You get to pick the units which make up the battlegroup you will have access to during each game.  You get to pick from cards containing a number of a kind of unit.  The type and quality — from unskilled rookie to elite — affect how many of each unit will be available.   Each card taken in a deck has a point cost, based on its position in the deck layout.  The first cards of a given class of unit tend to cost less than additional cards.  This makes a balanced force easier to field.  Decks can also  be specialized, and thus get more points to play with, or more and better units per card.  Armored groups get bonuses for tanks, but have less or more expensive infantry and supporting units.  Picking a national alliance, or a single nation, gives you access to more units of those nations at the cost of having none from others of your side.  Choosing to restrict yourself to older units gives you more points, but loses access the most modern (and thus most powerful) units.

Naval Warfare

Naval combat was added to the series in Red Dragon.  It is interesting, but there are far fewer types of naval units (ships, not all of the supporting land and air units available to support the navy) than the land  and air units in the game.  I think that could easily be expanded and balanced better in the future.  It is still fun and interesting to play with the naval units, but the game focus is still on land and air combat.

Polish And Conclusions

The game visuals are quite good, but you tend not to spend much time looking at the cinematic view while playing.  It is worth it when it is safe to do so — watching an airstrike up close is satisfying — but you are usually too focused on the big picture.  Fortunately, the game offers a full, saved replay for all of your games.  You can watch the game from any point of view, move the camera to see all the action in detail, and see the map as your opponent saw it.  You can learn a lot from this, and have a lot of fun just watching how a well fought game played out, in war movie fashion.

All in all, if you are into modern warfare strategy games at all, this is a must have.


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