Nothing exists in a cultural vacuum, and there were many things that led me to the path where I got Command and never looked back. But I think that three games in particular served as various stepping stones.
Advance Wars: The Opening Act
When I was but a child, I grabbed the games in the Advance Wars series and played all of them. They’re cutesy turn-based strategy games that got me into military strategy gaming in the first place. In hindsight, they’re weirdly good operational games, owing as much to their limitations as any features (I really doubt the Intelligent Systems programmers knew the intricacies of the still-disputed “Operational Art”). The limitations are:
- Unit on unit combat is simple and abstracted.
- In everything but “destroy the MacGuffin” campaign missions, you cannot win in a single maneuver. These are attritional campaigns you’re waging.
So, because of this, you have to think about objectives (namely production structures and cities to boost your economy) and timing (when to use your CO Powers). Thus for all of AW’s distortions and unrealistic (to put it mildly) quantities, it was good for getting me in the mood for big-picture wargaming.
The series hit its peak in the second game before declining, and has since been shelved since 2008’s Days of Ruin.
Steel Panthers: The Possibility of Options
Later on, after the Advance Wars series ground to a disappointing halt in Days of Ruin, I found Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank. And being able to fight any conflict from 1946 to the present was amazing at the time. For years I threw myself into Steel Panthers, and still play it occasionally.
While Steel Panthers opened the door to large-scale possibilities and is still a fantastic game, it has some issues. There are UI and AI problems and the game can be munchkined pretty easily. But those are second to the two issues. One is that even small battles are very involved and hands-on. The other is that it teeters on an uncomfortable tightrope between “game” and “simulation”, mixing high-fidelity units with a points purchase system. Some countries were near-unplayable at certain point levels because you commanded giant clunky waves of low-tier infantry or a few irreplaceable units. It’s really meant for reinforced battalion-level combat against equal opponents, and while bigger and/or more asymmetric battles can be conducted, the simulation isn’t as good there.
So this brings me to the third and most influential yet.
Fleet Command: The Trainer
The final piece of the puzzle was Fleet Command. Fleet Command’s biggest problem was that it was finicky and janky with massive compatibility issues on newer computers. I was lucky to get it when I did. But as a simplified introduction to air/naval warfare, it was beautiful. When I played my first few Command scenarios and missions, I knew the basic “setup” from my Fleet Command experience.
Plus my love of the weird and unconventional manifested itself in Fleet Command’s (rough) scenario editor-I was making slapfights over Greenland, to give an example.
So, having tasted those morsels, I was hungering for a meal. Advance Wars is less relevant save for being the spark plug that ignited my general interest.
- I wanted the unit diversity of Steel Panthers, but without its clunkiess or iffy “balance”.
- I wanted something like Fleet Command, but with more detail and stability.
So when I saw Baloogan’s Guadalcanal sandbox video and saw a scenario made quickly, I was instantly in love. I bought Command, and saw it provided what I was looking for-it had modern air and sea warfare, hugely diverse units and possibilities in an editor that was brilliantly easy to use and could let you determine the “worth” of everything. The rest is history.
What isn’t on the list:
The biggest omission from the list is Harpoon. I still to this date have never played any version of Harpoon. I have nothing against it, but I was just only vaguely aware of its existence for a long time and by the time I’d figured out more, I’d already gotten Command. In terms of lower-level air/naval sims, I only played World War II ones, namely Silent Hunter 3 and Il-2 Sturmovik. But mostly it was just those three.
I also, for a variety of logistical reasons, haven’t played many tabletop games. It’s been mostly computer for me.