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Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict

by Jim "Twitch" Tittle

Article Type: Review
Article Date: August 23, 2001

Board Game On A PC?

This is a true board-game-turned-computer-game. Back in the days of B.C. (Before Computers) there were military board games. A company called Avalon Hill had a bunch of them from all historical eras. It was either play those or build plastic scale models. I was a long time modeler back then and ended up with something like 400 1/72nd scale aircraft. Did I miss the boat? Not with the new-style board game on PCs.

Talonsoft has put together an intriguing scenario that kind of ricochets off the history of the Israeli nation from its beginning in 1948, to 1973 when they were fighting most of their neighbors. Here the battles are fought on hexagon grids instead of sand.

This is not an RTS in the sense of games we know like that. This idea is more chess-like in strategic, long thought-out action moves. There is no moving by the enemy going on that you must immediately counteract. You make your moves. The computer A.I. makes its moves. You can take as long as you want in your turn even saving the game to finish later.

Installation of the 200 MB program was fast and without problems. There are no choices on any settings initially. You need Windows 95 or higher along with Direct X 6.0 or higher. Graphics power is a non-issue. The program didn’t drop another desktop icon there to clutter things even more. It you want it you can drag it from the program files. Every time you re-insert the CD it prompts you to run it. Simple.

Set Up Screen

Choose Sides

When you choose a scenario from the list you are shown its level of complexity, date and the number of turns it is limited to. Wait! A turn means a whole series of actions, moving your pieces anywhere they can go. This could be repositioning and/or directing 300 pieces per turn! You can read a brief historical blurb about the real incident and which side it is better to play as: Israel or one of four Arab Nations (Jordan, Egypt, Iraq or Syria). There are more Israeli point of view games but you can take any side. There are twenty-eight scenarios.

Advantage can be neutral or you can move a slider to favor your side (remember that Israel was usually numerically inferior in many battles). The screen is 3D like an RTS game but you can change to a 2D map-style in two magnifications. But with the 3D you can zoom out twice removed to get a God’s eye view. Forget the Rand-MacNally and play 3D.

2-D Map Is Useless & No Fun

You have an action button bar at the bottom for instant control of things on the screen and a slim pop-down bar at the top with tons of dialogue for infinite control of things. A lot of variables were integrated into this thing so you don’t feel lacking on what you can do.

There’s no way you can read the little manual and absorb it. You just have to get into it in a simple scenario and fiddle around. You don’t have to rush. You can experiment and consult the manual for as long as you desire since there is nothing happening in real time. Give the old joystick a rest because the mouse controls everything you need and your keys duplicate the button bars and even have a couple extra control features.

Many Icons = Many Features

In 3D normal mode you can distinguish between equipment and armor. Tanks are about ľ-1 inch in size. But, trust me, use the "Base" button option to show the national symbol bases beneath the pieces. Playing without them shows how well real camouflage works. I was getting hit during the enemy turn with all sorts of out-of-the-blue ordnance from them but could not see them. Wham! There goes a half-track. Wham! There goes an M-48. And the piece icons represent multiple squads, platoons or units. That took some getting used to. A little piece with a graphic of three little army men could well be six platoons. There are buttons that show you a piece’s travel and firing ranges by highlighting the map. Use this feature.

Camo Works!

There are a dozen enemy pieces on the above screen. Without the “bases” option turned on, they blend into the terrain well. Pop-down menu is illustrated.

Your pieces move and fire with action points beginning at 100-percent on each turn. If you move too far you won’t have enough points to fire when you get close to an enemy. But you can click on the menu and it will let you move less distance but still have power for at least one volley shot if you’re in range.

When your icon that represents six Centurion tanks fires a volley at, say, a three Su-100 icon and they kill one, a smoking, wrecked hulk appears next to its piece icon and remains. Then original icon stays for the remaining two. You can’t move too many pieces into a hexagon if there are wrecks there. Six is the maximum at any rate. You can move pieces individually or group them together in a hex and double click them to move them forward all together. This will save game time if you group them right.

Each piece has an info box that gives the strength or number of units, like “5” for a single icon representing five T-62s. You can touch an enemy icon with the mouse pointer and see its strength and data too. Beyond that it tells morale factor—low is bad. A "Defense" number varies on the set value of the piece. A tank’s "Assault" number reading is higher than a jeep's and means that piece is more powerful. "Fire Cost" is the only factor I really looked at much. If all pieces begin a turn at 100-percent moving may eat up digits and drop you lower than the minimum to be able to fire during that turn unless you invoke the “Save APs or Firing” menu. Pieces expend differing amounts of points to move and shoot. This is shown here too.

There are specialized pieces too. Only engineering platoons can blow holes in walls to move through and clear mines. Trucks carry troops and artillery that load and unload then move independently. Using vehicles that can move farther each turn is better than infantry hot footing it around. There are helicopters that allow long distance moves and still have points available to shoot. Some can haul soldiers too.

There are reinforcements at times and these are well received by the player when notified. Israeli paratroopers can drop in with light vehicles and artillery behind enemy lines at times. Other new arrivals come from the edge of the board and must be moved up.

Officers and HQ supply units are essential. I think the little virtual guys fight better when there is close-by direction and you must keep the HQ vehicle in range or you get "Out of Supply" messages. Disrupted units once hit lose morale and they can’t move to fight. Once other units get close they seem to pick it up again and go.

He Can Still Move & Waste Your Ordnance

Above illustrates the “Artillery Dialogue” menu and what enemy unit is targeted. Upper right shows the highlighted piece’s info box.

You can call in air attacks and artillery strikes, best done at the end of your turn. The enemy may move targeted units but maybe not. A cross-hairs appears on selected hexes. Artillery doesn’t always hit the hex either allowing realistic errors. Air strikes are more precise but much more limited. The aircraft move across the screen pretty fast and while some look historically accurate like a Dassault fighter or an F-4, others seen look pure fantasy. It’s not important.

“Indirect Fire” lets either side’s game pieces fire without player control if the range is correct. There is an “Assault” menu and button that gives the player the odds on the outcome of an assault on a nearby enemy position with his adjacent piece. If you invoke it there is an intense fire-fight and the outcome leaves one side the victor or loser. It can move things faster than normal but can lose more pieces if you’re not careful.

Long Games

An essential is to use the drop-down menu and speed up both AI and human movements of pieces. On regular speed it is just too slow moving. In those menus you can get any unit’s data and info you want such as artillery range. You can actually play yourself by setting the enemy control to “Manual” and moving the pieces. You can cheat by deactivating the AI as the computer is moving to tweak things around. I never did but you can. At any time you can access the menu to view the current strength and losses on both sides. There is a clickable mini map that you can use to see the deployment of forces and go to any point immediately if you click on a point.

You Get Superb Intel

Above is the menu showing strength and losses for each side and the pieces’ bases that make them more visible.

There is a campaign mode that has different missions than the single ones. I can’t say how long a campaign is since the games take so long to play I haven’t nearly finished one yet!

This Is The Mother Of All Battles!

The above map is from a very complex scenario showing laden landing craft, vehicles and helicopters below enemy positions and burning wrecks.

In a complex game with 24-25 turns and moving fast, it may still take ten hours to play! A medium one is easily two hours so set aside time for this one. Of course you can save and resume later. It is possible to play via modem head-to-head, but I just can’t imagine how the time expenditure could be satisfying or justified since when on AI the computer makes decisions fast and another human would not. There is a game play by E-mail feature that sounds similarly tedious.

In campaign mode there is one feature I positively hate—Fog of War. It can’t be turned off and you can’t see the enemy forces until they’re at close range when they magically appear. After you skirmish with them and they move a few hexes away they disappear again. I like the way the RTS Star Trek Armada (STA) worked where the fog obscured things but visibility functioned once you moved to that point on the board. There is no fog on the pop-up mini map like STA. It just shows the forces. I think it hinders achievement of goals since you don’t always know where to go to find the enemy.

Audio & Video

The graphics are acceptable for a PC board game. You get small-scale explosions and burning wrecks continue to blaze a while and dead hulks stay there. Craters form after mortar, artillery and air strikes and lesser damage is represented so the board is not static. Its just not “wow.” But it doesn’t have to be.

Sound is a background thing, really. There is some easy listening Middle-Eastern music mixed with standard game play unintrusive stuff that you can turn off, but it’s not objectionally loud enough to distract you. Some sections sound just like the background music in Star Wars Armada. Action effect sounds are fine. Every type of weapon fire punctuates the action. You can actually tell the difference between your machine guns and the enemy’s. Distant background fire punctuates things. Vehicle sounds are all about the same for each class of vehicle without variance between heavy and lighter trucks. Tanks have their own sound. And you’ll love the pitter-patter of the little feet as infantry units move.

If you want to jazz things up, the effects are all .WAV format files so you could modify or replace them. I didn’t find any handy music .WAVs so it seems you can’t drop in your recording of “Rock The Casbah,” though that would cook!

There are even features that allow map editing so you can completely modify anything you want using the terrain .BMPs from the game. Plus it is possible to edit the scenarios using another included editor! These features are too intense to describe fully here because of the steps involved but are very welcome. No one will be able to complain that they got tired of those things after a while. A more extensive .PDF manual is accessable on the CD than is in the printed version. You can drag it to your desktop for study when the disc is not in the drive.


I found the game to be more fun than I thought it would be. Even losing is fun. At the end of all the turns you get a readout of points and losses. Be sure to “take” those enemy point placards with numbers and national marking on them by moving a piece there. Your score is either a minor or major defeat or victory. I’ve lost by a handful of strength points or personnel even though I thought I’d done better.

In the most complex and long single game I’d actually beaten the enemy and had the few remaining units cornered only to lose the game since I’d thrown too much equipment and personnel at the enemy.

Actually the length of play of Divided Ground: Middle East Conflict involved is good in most respects. You feel like you got your money’s worth since it will take a long time to master this baby. Then you can modify things with the included editors. This game is actually never going to be old in the sense that combat simulations get as soon as graphics and feature complexity are increased with the next hardware evolution. You could play this for years and it won’t feel outdated. It is easy to see how any combat era could be made into this format and be workable—medieval knights, Viking warriors, Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI & II and so on. Even naval warfare works in this format.

Divided Ground should run well on any modest PC with its low memory and graphic demands. You could put this on a notebook and play if you travel a lot. It would beat hotel/motel TV.

So for a change of pace Divided Ground and its genre are good values and the PC board format shouldn’t leave you bored.

Reviewer's System

  • ASUS A7V133 mother board with 256MB PC –133 RAM
  • Athlon T-Bird 1.2GhZ CPU
  • SoundBlaster PCI 128 w/Yamaha YST-M7 speakers
  • nVidia GeForce 2 Ultra
  • Windows ME
  • 27 GB Maxtor 7,200 RPM H.D.
  • Direct X 8.0
  • 17” monitor 800 X 600 resolution
  • Samsung 52X CD drive

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