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The Operational Art Of War and The Operational Art Of War 2

It is rare that a wargame can manage to capture the imagination of today's youth. With decidedly unflashy graphics, turn-based movement and combat, the games of yesteryear (meaning, only eight or so years ago) can only find an audience in the people that grew up in the days of Avalon Hill and SPI, where the cardboard counter was king and setting up a game meant having a huge space available that was free from both kids and pets for long periods of time. As has been the case for several decades now, the number of people with the time, energy and space to dedicate to such projects has dwindled down to a fraction of what it used to be.

But in 1998 and again in 1999, a company called Talonsoft found a soft spot in the hearts of many an old grognard with the release of The Operational Art of War and its sequel, the Operation Art of War II: Modern Battles. Both games (each with a corresponding expansion pack), took a high level or operational view of conflicts all the way from WWI to the modern day Arab-Israeli wars to Desert Storm as well as hypothetical conflicts such as a second Korean War or the long-feared invasion of Europe by the Soviet Union. The units involved were generally battalion and above, with air and naval forces being depicted in a more abstract manner. The picture here shows a typical view at the beginning of a scenario.

opart1, copyright snortyville03

The counters may not seem like much, certainly in comparison to the games today, but to the person in the know, they are a font of information on movement capability, offensive and defensive strength, supply, and formation integrity that were the hallmarks of what General Schwarzkopf called during Desert Storm “the operational art”.

In the game, movement is conducted either by individuals or by groups of units. Unit cohesion plays a big role in the game, as units that are supposed to fight and move together are more effective than units that have been split up. Supply also plays a role, as units that are not in supply are degraded in both movement and combat. Terrain, morale and a number of other factors all play a role in determining who will win a particular battle. And, unlike a large number of wargames translated to the computer, the AI in the game is actually decent, though it is nothing compared to a human player.

You can usually play either side against a computer player for a particular scenario, have two-player hotseat games where each player takes his or her turn at the computer, or you can play by e-mail (PBEM), which is how a number of people play since it can take a very long time. The scenarios range in size from battalion level actions to entire theaters of war encompassing hundreds of units on each side. There is a good selection of scenarios available with the game, and enterprising people have taken the scenario editor (supplied with the game) and have made literally hundreds of other scenarios available.

You will never run out of battles to fight with The Operational Art of War. It is a true classic of the genre. And just recently, Matrix Games bought the rights to re-publish the game and have done so, producing The Operational Art of War III, which incorporates both of the previous games and includes literally hundreds of scenarios, as well as fixes to various problems in the AI. It is still weak in areas like naval engagement, but the game is mostly about ground movement and combat. If you are into wargaming and history, you owe it to yourself to get this game (the newer version, as the older ones are difficult to get to run on Windows 2000 or above).