I wanted to take a few minutes out to discuss why I feel HTTR is a very special game.
Before going any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a Beta tester. (Dave O'Connor, the President of Panther Games, had asked that we make that clear if we post opinions on public forums.)
What I find most exciting about HTTR is the gaming engine (the technology) itself. Certainly, the Market Garden Campaign is historically interesting. However, as has been discussed in another thread, it has been done before. And, it will certainly be done again, too.
I get a feeling when playing HTTR that I have rarely gotten when playing other games. I have played other war and strategy games, but I am by no means a crazed fanatic with 20 years of war game experience going back to table top and board games. When playing HTTR, I feel that the crux of what I am doing is defining and monitoring a strategy I have drawn up for a battle.
In many so called "strategy" games, the player may formulate a strategy in pursuit of victory. However, when it comes to executing the strategy, it is largely incumbent on the player to execute each small detail in order to realize the strategy. So, the "strategy" is actually something the player imposes upon the gaming system, as opposed to the player actually interacting with the system at the strategic level. At worst, this leaves the player so mired with the details that the big picture is lost or at best, the player can track the big picture but finds much of their involvement happening at a lower level than the one for which they acquired the game for in the first place.
So, what is it that is different about Panther's engine that allows strategy to be both the main focus of the player and main interaction with the game?
(1) Panther has introduced a flexible multi-level chain of command structure into the game. The player may interact with units/sub-units at any level within the chain of command. Thus, it is very adaptable to individual style and needs. One can both micro/macro manage within even a single gaming session. A critical road block can be created by tasking individual companies while some place else an entire brigade can be given very open ended orders to make an attack.
Some games have a natural level at which the player should interact with the game. As long as scenarios and forces are constructed around that natural limit, they play very well. Panther's engine is much more open ended. The ability to command at any level makes the game highly scalable. In many games, if you double the forces, the complexity for the player will quadruple (exponential scaling). In Panther's engine, the scaling is more of a logarithmic function. So, doubling the forces may increase the complexity for the player by a factor of 1.2 or so.
(Okay, keep this scaling in mind as I will come back to it soon.)
(2) Along with this being able to take command at any level, Panther has provided a very powerful (or as they prefer to say "capable") AI. In most games, the AI is something that serves as your opponent. In the Combat Mission series, Battle Front identified two different AIs. First there is the Tactical AI, which resolved combat between individual elements (units) in the game system. Second, there is the Strategic AI which formulates a high-level plan for the battle against the player. If we look at Panther's engine, we will also find both of these AIs. However, in the Panther engine the Strategic AI also functions on behalf of the player to produce plans in the execution of orders given by the player. It is this which allows the player to command at any level. The player need not concern him or herself with a myriad of typical details like choosing the best route, coordinating the movement of many units with proper overwatch and security, developing a proper attack formation, deploying different type of assets to their maximum advantage, etc...
So, when we add the two above features together we get a highly scalable system that allows the player's main involvement to be with defining and monitoring strategy. In some games, you may be able to command large scale battles. However, this is often achieved by abstracting the forces involved in the battle. With Panther's engine, large scale doesn't mean highly abstracted. In fact, while playing HTTR you will find all the low level elemental units like infantry companies, anti-tank platoons, mortars platoons, ... individually represented and involved. So, even though you are directing a battle involving tens of thousands men and giving order to brigades, it is fought before your eyes at a much finer level of granularity. All the inherent messiness and give and take of battle is not abstracted away by some hidden numerical system. It is all there for your immersion and analysis despite your involvement at a much higher level.
(3) I think there is one other aspect of Panther's engine that significantly contributes to the strategic nature of the game. This is order delays. Anyone who is serving or has served will tell you that no plans/orders are immediately executed. They require time to plan, communicate, organize, and execute. You will also be told that command and control delays during WWII were much greater than they are today. There were no GPS satellites, computers, integrated battle management, etc... Panther has implemented such command and control delays into the gaming engine. While playing, you are free to issue orders and reissue orders at any point in time. However, if you choose to play with order delays (this is optional, but is selected by most players), then you will not be issuing orders and revising them every simulated hour. You are going to analyze and then, formulate a plan. Then, you will issue orders. Then, you are going to, with as much patience as you can muster, sit back and let things run their course. Even when things are not going well, you will not immediately jump in and tweak this or that. You will make a commitment as the commander to stand by your decisions until a major overhaul is needed.
Believe me, this all feels very real life. The requirement to create the best plan on incomplete/inaccurate information and then sit back and let things just happen, adds a lot to the fact that this is about strategy. You will work out a strategy and then set it in motion. You are not going to keep nudging things in the right direction based on some tables published by players who have reverse engineered the gaming system. I have never served in the military, but I have managed large scale software projects and this game truely captures the feel and challenges of leadership/management.
Besides the three features cited above. HTTR has a clean and powerful interface for the player. Based at what I have told you above, you would certainly expect nothing less. I won't discuss the interface though, since I had really wanted to call your attention to why HTTR is a true strategy game. I am sure others will tell you more about the interface at a later date and there will be the usual previews and reviews in the trade press.
So, to restate the basic premise of this post. Panther's engine in very unique and special in the way it allows a strategy gamer to play HTTR and remain focused on strategy.
I have been playing (beta testing) a simulated 10 day scenario for the last few days, and I have been having a wonderful time. I thought I would taken a few minutes and share some of that feeling and the reasons why with other war/strategy gaming hobbyists. Well, I have to get back to testing; as both the Beta Team and Panther/Matrix are all working hard to keep this project on schedule.
Never more! (I've had enough. Sliterine has raised mediocrity to an art form!)