Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Desert Peace

Since I hate giving a beginning without an ending, I thought I'd recount how the WWII scenario ended up.

I think I wrote the first post around the time I took Algiers. By this point the Italians had been removed from Africa and Vichy France was in decline. My task became both more complex and easier. Harder, because I needed to figure out how to ferry my ground troops over the sea to strike at my next objectives. Easier, because my allies couldn't follow me there. I finished taking the north coast and then began shifting my forces, leaving the inland cities to the growing Free French and Allied forces who instantly set about their top-priority mission: ensuring that no roadways would ever again exist in Northern Africa.

Oh, quick note. There's a Word document that ships with the scenario that gives a little more background. Here I learned that, despite Eisenhower being their leader, the Allied faction early in the game actually represents ANZAC (the Australian and New Zealand forces). These were indeed focused around Cairo, which is why the faction starts with that city. After Pearl Harbor, the Americans are presumed to join this faction; this is represented by them getting some free units and gaining the ability to build naval and air units.

Back to the game. The obvious next target was Messina, on the eastern edge of Sicily. I'd prepared a transport for the occasion and was building several more. By this time I also had a nice little air fleet of about 8-10 bombers and several fighters. (I think the bombers are Vickers Wellington). Messina was within operational range of my island city, so the bombing commenced while I loaded up my transport and positioned my naval forced. By now I had managed to restore my navy to its prior strength, and operating from the island base I succeeded in sinking or badly damaging the nearby Italian ships.

Unlike Civ 1 or 2 (but like Civ 3), air power can weaken units dramatically but not destroy them outright. By the time I landed my tanks and machine guns on the hilly slopes of northeast Sicily, the defending machine guns were down to about 25% strength (4 or 5 of 18). In just two turns they took the city.

Now, there was also a city in western Sicily, not an objective but one that I couldn't allow to survive as a launching point for counter-offensives. But I was eager to press on to Athens, the final objective city, so rather than bring additional troops to the island I consolidated my present troops in Messina and started bringing the rest of my forces to the eastern Mediterranean. If I'd known what the next dozen turns would bring, I probably would have taken the extra time and tried to take the whole island right away. What happened was the Italian air force (I know! Who believed it existed?) took up position near Messina and gave me the same merciless pounding I had delivered. As a result none of my units, offensive or defensive, ever returned to full health. I ended up relocating my air force again to Messina and spending time pounding back down the interlopers, finally sending in several half-health tanks (and losing a few) to defeat the quarter-strength machine guns. Not a lot of fun, I hate casualties, but the island was finally secure.

I attempted to do the same with Athens. However, no existing city of mine was close enough for my bombers, and I only had one carrier (each carrier can hold 3 planes). So I would either need to take another city or build many more carriers. By now my bombing fleet had climbed to over a dozen, and it just seemed more practical to leverage them than to produce large numbers of suiciding ground units. I initially thought I'd be forced to use carriers, then I realized that I had a base on Cyprus within bombing distance of Crete, which in turn would give me the range needed to strike at Athens.

I wasn't the first to come up with the idea; Free France had landed a few units on Crete. Three, way too few to take a city, but every bit helped. I relocated my bombers and had them help Free France keep the city soft while I brought around an invasion force.

Now, this was my first time directly confronting Germany. We'd had two limited engagements before. Rommell landed in North Africa early with the Afrikorps. These units were way stronger than the Italian ones I'd been pushing back, but he didn't have sufficient numbers to pose a large threat. Later, while the bulk of my army was focused on Algiers and Messina, he landed a transport with a parcel of Panzers near Libya. They wreaked havoc for several weeks, tearing up my roads and making it impossible to quickly move units to the front. I eventually took them out but it was an aggravating process, and in the future I always held a few Crusader tanks back in my homeland to protect against future incursions.

Anyways, this was my first time taking a German city, and it proved a far different experience than assaulting Italy or Vichy France. Part of this is probably the result of Germany remaining untouched by me for so long while I pounded on their allies, but they clearly had taken care of their defenses. Crete was well defended by intercepting fighters, who kept many of my bombers from completing their runs. Even when they did get through, I wondered why they caused so little damage, usually just around 5% instead of 20%. I realized that Germany had actually taken the time to build Bunkers, something I had never bothered with since I wasn't expecting a serious invasion, but which was proving invaluable to them. As a result of these two factors, even with my vast force I had to bomb for about a month before I felt comfortable landing my troops, as opposed to the week or two I had expected.

Even here, things were dicey for a while. Germany knew where the action was and had pulled up their bombers close; the very turn they landed, before attacking, all my tanks were down to 50% or lower. The odds didn't look great, and if even one of my units went down I wouldn't be able to take the city, and they'd be down again to 25% the next turn. So I had them dig in while I loaded up some units I'd planned on saving for Athens.

Using twelve units proved much better than four; the machine guns took the brunt of the bombs, and the surviving tanks were healthy enough to defeat the also-battered defenders. Crete was mine, and soon became the most populated base in the Mediterranean, holding something like 20 aircraft, a dozen ships, and two dozen ground troops.

Even with Crete gone, Germany remained a fierce opponent. Their navy, which I had barely seen before, was present and deadly in the Aegean and nearby. I couldn't go anywhere without large convoys. They had foolishly allowed many fighters to be destroyed in Crete, but it proved only a fraction of their air force. For the first time in the game I started to actually set fighters to interception, trying to give my units some reprieve from the falling death.

Athens was a tough battle. I scouted out the position first with my navy and started coastal bombardment with my battleships. However, I had to keep swapping ships with Crete, because Germany sent well-orchestrated counteroffenses against me. The bombers did the best they could with the city, but once again it was a slow process. Finally I sent out four transports loaded up with artillery, machine guns, and supremely veteran (Level 5 by now) tanks. They landed on the hilly, forested land west of Athens and took the city in one turn, albeit with staggering losses.

From this point, it was time to play the waiting game. My team now controlled all six objective cities, and just needed to hold them for ten turns. Still, if any cities were retaken, the process would start over. I decided that just dumping machine guns in Athens wasn't necessarily the best strategy; I had to gain some lebensraum to buffer myself.

Something very cool happened: the Allies managed to take another Grecian city on their own, with just some helping airpower from Britain. My southern flank was now secure, and I struck north into the Greek mainland. My units wouldn't count in my score (I think) and wouldn't be of any use to me anyways in a few turns, so I freely expended much of my artillery when taking cities. After I had a freed the land around Athens, I decided I was in good shape and bored of moving units, so I fortified everyone and waited.

The timer ticked down as the Germans and Italians threw themselves against me, the Allies and Free French having finally seized the last Vichy city. Five, four, three, two... game over!

Shortly before the timer actually reached 0, I got a popup with a title like "Africa freed". It said something on the order of, now that Africa is fully within Allied control, the Axis powers have lost any chance at accessing the oil resources they need from the Middle East. Their war machine will be defeated, good work!

Now, I'm not exactly sure whether this was supposed to happen or not. It might have just been that the counter displayed on the screen was off by one and I did get the real "You Win!" message. However, I was credited with a Score Victory, when I was expecting something like an Objective Victory. And the wording puzzled me, since it only talked about Africa, even though only two of the objective cities (Algiers and Suez) are in Africa proper, the rest being further north. So I wondered if I had just reached the timed end of the scenario and was seeing the message because my team had won enough territory to get the leading score. That seems weird, though, since this happened in mid-1942, and I'd expect the scenario to run until 1944.

What really torques me off, though, is the fact that it was a Score Victory with no bonus, and as a result I got pegged for the first time ever (well, in Civ IV at least) as Dan Quayle. Granted, I was playing on Warlord instead of my customary Noble, but still... I'd like to think that taking all the objectives in less than three years should get me something higher than that.

On the whole, the scenario is very fun to play but has a very frustrating lack of polish. In addition to other things I've complained about in these two posts, the units are extremely well illustrated, but the leaderheads are awful. Franco's, in particular, has a totally wrong background, which is glaringly obvious and would take all of two seconds to fix.

As far as other lessons I've learned, I think that if I play this scenario again I'll make much more use of artillery, especially in taking cities. I never did much with them in this game until the very end, since bombers and battleships could bombard the cities and tanks had great attacking power. However, tanks also have severe combat penalties when attacking cities. I was able to get my tanks up to City Raider III mainly by using them against weakling Italians for easy victories, and so by the end of the game my tanks were even or had a net bonus when taking cities. Still, this is inefficient; artillery also can take City Raider, and it makes more sense to build the cheap Artillery for this task and give the Tanks promotions related to their core missions of scouting territory and defeating enemies in the field.

Another thing I'll do is give some units marine promotions. As the debacle on Crete showed, it can be disastrous to have a stacked invasion force near a large supply of enemy bombers. Once you've softened up the defenders, healthy Infantry with Marine promotions should be able to take out the defenders with ease from the sea, and then you can take the city before the bombers get a chance to harm you.

Again, on the whole this was a very enjoyable scenario to play, a little slow towards the end but not at all bad. I learned a ton about tactics and strategy, some of it particular to this scenario but much of it applicable to my main Civ IV game.

I haven't played any more Civ since I beat this scenario last week; I hate to say it, but after over two months of nonstop playing, I needed a break. I'm revisiting ICO now and hope to pick up either Shadow of the Colossus or The Warriors the next time one of them goes on sale. I will be returning to Civ, though... I haven't even tried the game on Prince yet and want to start experimenting with those higher difficulties.

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