(This article may be found at http://www.combatsim.com/htm/2000/10/squadpre)

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Squad Leader
By James Cobb

The Fight

This zoomed-out map shows a village the Americans must clear . Note the selected soldier's bar below the map.

The platoon finds it's in 3-D surroundings with soldiers represented by accurate figures coping with accurate terrain. A bar across the bottom details the soldier’s condition and equipment. The bar also has action icons for running, walking or crawling and stance icons for standing, kneeling and prone positions. If a soldier sees an enemy, the bad guy not only appears on the map but also is an icon on the bar for quick selection. Placing the cursor on the enemy shows the chance to hit, action points expended by fire and range. A player can opt for a better hit chance using aimed fire at the cost of action points.

Fire is not the only way to take out an enemy. Grenades and other explosives can kill multiple targets but can also hurt friendlies in the blast range or even bounce back. A weak soldier can kill himself by not throwing the grenade far enough. Truly safe mayhem can be accomplished through mortar teams or having the radio operator call in artillery.

Combat is punctuated with speech in the appropriate language and accents with sub-titles. Given the repetition of “eat lead!”, the ability to turn off these functions may be useful. Everyone has their own limits for “cute”. The combat graphics are nice. Soldiers do collapse but that doesn’t mean they’re dead. They may only be pinned or may, with the help of a medic, revive “to kill the man that killed me.” Finally, a soldier may be lucky enough to get adjacent to a enemy and engage in hand to-hand combat.

Specialists have icons other soldiers don’t. Leaders can rally pinned and routed troops and engineers can set off the charges by plunger or differentially set timers. Medics have the most dangerous, exposed jobs. They must run to the wounded before they die, face them, kneel (wounds are shown on a screen), and administer a point-intensive treatment. This sequence makes them nice targets for at least two turns in front of an enemy with questionable grasps of the Geneva Convention.

Combat has other factors. By saving action points, soldiers can use opportunity fire in the other side's turn. Of course, the enemy can do the same to you so moving in the open is a definite risk. As far as risks go, a bad marksman is more likely to kill his buddy in front, than an enemy.

Some scenarios have vehicles. Although platoon members can’t drive them, they can board for transport. The player handles his vehicles much like any other unit.

A German tank zeroes in on a target in the Bulge.

Warm and Fuzzy?
The original Squad Leader emphasized morale. Units get pinned and rout; leaders attempt to rally. The new version has this, plus a group dynamic. If a soldier loses contact with his unit, his performance suffers. Thus, keeping units bunched seems a good idea-–-until the mortar shells kill them all in one turn or machine gunfire stitches the whole squad. This bunching, except for the final assault, was a definite losing move with the board game. A toggle can turn on the possibility of a soldier getting a “Dear John” letter from home, distracting him from the task at hand-–-survival.

The AI used for solitaire has any number of canned responses and actions. Such pre-programming will of necessity leave out the wild and crazy moves human opponents made on the boardgame. The multi-player option could be a substitute for this, although the smell of stale beer and pizza will be missed.

Such differences point out the danger in this conversion. The new Squad Leader has all the elements of the old except scope. No company or battalion engagements exist. Whether a translation in scale downward can generate the excitement and fanatical support of the original is a question that can only be answered with the final product.

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(This article may be found at http://www.combatsim.com/htm/2000/10/squadpre)