Wargame Red Dragon is the latest game in the Wargame series of Cold War RTS titles. This iteration turns the clock back to the 1980s, where tensions in the East are about to explode in an alternate history of the Cold War. Naval units are being introduced to the fold, allowing arm chair generals to execute one of the most difficult military maneuver, the amphibious assault.
The Wargame series has provided military fiction fans many different alternate history scenarios of the Cold War. The previous two titles covered NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations clashing in Eastern Europe. Wargame Red Dragon turns the focus to Asia in four separate what if scenarios. Things kick off with Korean War exploding again in violence after South Korea begins to falter with civil unrest. The US and South Korea must fight back the North Korean invaders. Fun fact, a final peaceful settlement has not actually been declared in Korea, an armistice only marks an end to the fighting. The next follows the Chinese as they strike the first blow against the USSR, fearing an imminent betrayal of the Soviets. The third campaign spins a new version of events in Hong Kong, pitting the Commonwealth forces led by Great Britain against the Chinese in an attempt to forcefully maintain control of Hong Kong as the 99 year lease is about to expire. Finally, the fourth campaign caps things off with the player leading the USSR in an invasion of Japan, after tensions over the Kuril Islands reach a boiling point.
Eugen Systems does a fantastic job with creating the four story campaigns. They make small change in events and follow the thread as it unravels the entire cloth of history. Some of their changes are still diplomatic hot spots today, such as the Kuril Islands and the Korean War, which makes the story lines seem slightly more plausible. I enjoy the fact the campaign introductions are made with actual historical footage and the conversations during the campaign have pictures of period correct soldiers. I found it helped create a suspension of disbelief.
Eugen Systems has been making real time strategy games for a good decade now, and their experience shows. Wargame Red Dragon finally introduces the missing gameplay mechanic in the series by adding naval warfare. Now, players will need to balance the military trinity of sea, land, and air to dominate the battle space.
The Wargame series breaks from the traditional RTS system of unit production and building management. Instead, the player starts with a deck containing a limited amount of units, each with a supply cost. Players will begin the battle with a set amount of points that will allow them to start out with a small force. From there, they will gain more points from controlling important sectors with a command unit, which will allow reinforcements drawn from the deck to be called into battle. Units have limited ammunition and fuel, requiring resupply runs to keep the fighting forces in the battle.
The naval battles are the big new addition to Wargame Red Dragon and it does not disappoint. The naval units come in two general themes, ships and landing vehicles bearing marines armed to the teeth. The heavily armed ships will often provide cover for the amphibious units to make their landing, shoot down aircraft that stray too close to the water, provide firepower support from the waterways, and serve as a base for air units. The amphibious units open new potential attack points in the map. It quickly becomes apparent after playing Wargame Red Dragon why amphibious invasions are considered one of the most challenging military maneuvers out there, everything needs to happen perfectly. Reconnaissance needs to spot enemy positions, so they can be suppressed with naval guns and air support, as landing crafts are practically sitting ducks during the landing. Then the newly landed units must fight their way to the enemy positions across an exposed landing zone, without getting slammed by their own fire support. The new maps contain plenty of opportunities to attack from the water, allowing players to get their chance to lead marine units into battle.
Those playing in single player will have access to playing multiplayer style skirmishes against the AI or one of the four campaigns. There is no difficulty setting for the campaigns. Instead, the difficulty changes from one campaign to the other. For the casual or particularly unskilled RTS player, this can really limit the enjoyment of the campaigns, as players may eventually hit a skill ceiling in the campaign.
The campaigns are split between two parts. The first part is a turn based strategy game that covers a large geographical area. The player and the computer will take turns ordering units around different sectors of the map to trigger skirmishes. Reinforcements and tactical abilities can be triggered with political points gained during play, which add an extra layer of complexity to the turn based strategy.
The second part of the game are the skirmishes which will determine who will control the sector and the losses to each deck. Players are free to fight these battles themselves or allow the game to automatically resolve the fight for them. I found the auto-resolve feature to be a nice touch, but it needs a lot of work as the game provides a vague description on what variables influence the outcome. It would be much better to give a rough idea on the outcome of the auto-resolved battle, so players can decide if they can skip over a lopsided battle or if their odds would be better if they led their troops into battle.
Multiplayer in Wargame Red Dragon is limited to ranked and unranked matches. Players will have more flexibility compared to the single player campaign, as they will be able to create their own decks out of the hundreds of different units available in the armory. Surprisingly absent is the ability to play the campaigns with or against friends.
Wargame Red Dragon is not a newbie friendly game at all. The tutorial involves a barebones manual, requiring players to do a bit of reading to learn how to play. The game itself is extremely dense with content and at times extremely unforgiving. Compared to Wargame AirLand Battle, Eugen Systems seems to have taken a step backwards with the learning curve. It makes me wonder if Wargame Red Dragon was meant to be an expansion for AirLand Battle versus a standalone game.
Wargame Red Dragon continues to provide a fantastic visual experience. The main menu has a great 1980s feel to it, even down to the small “Intel Inside” parody on the screens. In game, individual units are very detailed and it is great to see that infantry units have several members in a team, versus a single soldier. Important game information are conveyed in a logical manner. For example, units in cover will display as partially transparent in both their unit portrait and model.
Wargame Red Dragon’s audio is solid. Though I cannot verify the quality of the unit voice acting in foreign languages, the English voice acting is pretty good. The narrator does a great job for each campaign’s intro cinematic. The sound effects are bang on, which makes zooming into chaotic firefights enjoyable. My only complaint is I find the volume of the unit voices a bit low by default. An easily overlooked, but nice touch, is that the two previous Wargame soundtracks are available for play along with Wargame Red Dragon’s soundtrack in the audio settings.
For those new to the RTS genre, Wargame Red Dragon is not an ideal starting point. The game is meaty, challenging, and not particularly newbie friendly. Those looking for most realistic military strategy sim on the market will find Wargame Red Dragon to be the game they have been waiting for. Eugen System does a fantastic job of mixing historical accuracy with historical fiction. For those new to the series, I highly recommend playing one the previous Wargame titles first as Wargame Red Dragon feels more like the final exam for a course in military tactics, where players take skills land and air combat skills learned from previous games and bring it all together to execute some of the most difficult maneuvers in military strategy.
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