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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: November 29, 2000
If somebody were to ask you about some of your fondest gaming memories, there would possibly be some mentions of your first encounters with Doom, a particularly great frag in Quake, or maybe a marathon session with Civilization. This isn’t to say that digital entertainment has always dominated fans’ attention; in fact, certain board games or pen-and-paper outings have generated some of our most memorable moments. Hardcore RPG fans are likely to recall their first roll of the dice within Dungeons and Dragons, just as certain strategy-mongers will quote at length certain sessions they’ve enjoyed with Avalon Hill’s perennial classic, Squad Leader. Though it’s decades old, the latter is a game that’s captured many an imagination with its war-themed, turn-based, soldier-management antics. It seems that the specific, decades-old appeal of this timeless classic is such that Hasbro — who now owns the once-great Avalon Hill — has allowed Random Games to create a title based upon its flagship product, Squad Leader.
In the spirit of its classic predecessor, Squad Leader places you at the brink of battle within the frame of World War II and asks you to oversee the moment-to-moment, turn-based management of the soldiers involved. These men are divided into groups of six or so, and it’s up to you to ensure that they successfully carry out their mission as smoothly as possible. As you maneuver these men in their hex-based travels, you must also tend to the choice and state of their weaponry, a fact that becomes increasingly important as a given mission rolls along — especially considering the alterations brought to the “classic” format. Instead of dealing with a level playing field, warzones are now host to ten different levels of elevation. This means that instead of simply running through different variants of grass, fields and desert, your men must now attempt to deal with the dangers presented by height in the form of foxholes, towering hills, promontories, machine gun nests, hilltop fortifications, trenches, and so forth.
Fans of the genre will find Squad Leader‘s basic game mechanics extremely familiar, as it’s been seen fairly often in recent titles, including the well-received Jagged Alliance 2. Following the latter’s basic system fairly closely, this title allocates a given number of action points to each individual soldier, based upon the level of skill that he possesses. As their leader, you have free reign to spend these points as you will, with each action undertaken reducing the overall total. For example, you may wish to move your soldier from his hiding spot into a bunker where he would then fire at an enemy; however, you’d have to make sure that you didn’t waste all of his points on movement, else he would be unable to fire his weapon until the following round.
Of course, there are other possible actions that can be accomplished beyond basic walking and shooting, as your men are also capable of kneeling, lying prone and even crawling. While this may initially seem to be a questionable way to spend your action points, you’ll soon find that your men will dodge gunfire and acquire much better protection by adjusting their stance to fit their cover. On the flip side of the coin, your soldiers can prove to be much more effective on the attack should they dedicate extra action points to steadying their aim, or even if they set a few aside to account for off-turn opportunity fire. Still, how you choose to spend your precious action points may not only depend heavily on the relative ability of your men, but of their final goals — which can sometimes make all the difference.
Squad Leader offers several different modes for the aspiring war hero. Naturally, the most traditional of these is the ever-popular Campaign mode, which, as previously mentioned, allows you to carry your given pool of soldiers from its initial battle through to the very end, accumulating experience and skill bonuses along the way. Selecting this particular option will allow you to participate in one of three different perspectives available during World War II: the Americans, the British, and the Germans. Should you take up the cause for the U.S., you’ll find yourself beginning the game by taking part in Operation Overlord, complete with the storming of Normandy’s beaches on June 6th, 1944. The British campaign, on the other hand, leaps into action several months later, as you take part in the massive landing near Arnhem in mid-September. Finally, the infamous German campaign sees you pushing your men through the Ardennes during December of that same year. Should you lack the patience for a drawn-out war, you can elect to participate in a single scenario, which essentially extracts a mission from one of the three campaigns to be played as a one-shot battle. Alternatively, you can always randomly generate a mission for yourself, complete with tweakable nationalities, mission types, terrain, and so forth.
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