John Tiller’s Campaign Series

John Tiller’s Campaign Series

A wargaming extravaganza!

Game Category: Strategy – Turn-Based, History
Developer / Distributor: Talonsoft / Matrix Games
Release Date: 5 Jun 2007 (way back in 1999 / 2000 for Talonsoft’s original versions)
Rating: ESRB – Rating Pending

[Editor: This game was previously known as Talonsoft’s World at War (comprising Eastern Front II: Gold Edition, Western Front: Combat Pack, and Rising Sun: Gold Edition).]

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A wargaming extravaganza!
Just as Love Symbol #2 was recognized as the artist formerly known as Prince, I am glad to inform you in today’s review that John Tiller’s Campaign Series (JTCS) should be known as the games that were formerly called Eastern Front II: Gold Edition (EFII), Western Front: Combat Pack (WF), and Rising Sun: Gold Edition (RS).

All latter three games (inclusive of their respective expansion packs) were developed by Talonsoft in the last year leading up to the end of the 20th century. The three titles were released together in a bundle known as Talonsoft’s World At War (see image at right).

After Talonsoft’s untimely demise, Matrix Games acquired the rights to publish all games from what would collectively be known as the Campaign Series. The guys at Matrix Games added new game play elements, units, scenarios, and campaigns to the existing bundle; everything was then collected, re-polished, and released as one mega compilation set, known as John Tiller’s Campaign Series. Hats off to John for creating excellent PC wargames that allow us to relive the exciting battles of World War II and beyond, and thanks to Matrix Games for releasing this treasure trove to gamers all over again!

The main menu for Rising Sun…

Game Play
First, let’s cover the basics. JTCS is a tactical level turn-based wargame played on a hexagon grid game board. Each tile on the map represents 250 metres and a turn lasts about 6 minutes of real time. You can play against the computer player or a human opponent and have the choice of playing a single scenario or a full fledged campaign. Additionally, you can duke it out on the Internet in matches that feature up to 16 gamers who own a copy of JTCS.

The Eastern Front features maps that take you back to Eastern Europe (Byelorussia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine) and mother Russia herself. The Western Front takes you to the other side of Europe where France, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Norway get roped into bloodbaths involving the Allies versus the Axis. Rising Sun on the other hand brings you on a grand tour of the Pacific featuring far flung places like the Philippines, and dozens of unheard of atolls and island chains.

Choosing a scenario to play in East Front

Here’s a list that breaks down everything in East Front, West Front, Rising Sun, as well as the latest patched version of John Tiller’s Campaign Series. As you can see, JTCS is the more superior version as lots of content have been added to the mix over the years.

  • Talonsoft’s Gold Edition
    • #of scenarios = 313 (comprising 170 from East Front, 143 from West Front and 62 from Rising Sun)
    • # of campaigns = 50 (comprising 22 from East Front, 19 from West Front and 9 from Rising Sun)
    • # of Countries = 25 (comprising 9 from East Front, 13 from West Front and 3 from Rising Sun)
  • JTCS Original
    • # of scenarios = 421 (comprising 180 from East Front, 176 from West Front and 65 from Rising Sun)
    • # of campaigns = 51 (comprising 23 from East Front, 19 from West Front and 9 from Rising Sun)
    • # of Countries = 48 (comprising 12 from East Front, 25 from West Front and 11 from Rising Sun)
  • JTCS version 1.04
    • #of scenarios = 510 (comprising 189 from East Front, 220 from West Front and 101 from Rising Sun)
    • # of campaigns = 51 (comprising 22 from East Front, 19 from West Front and 9 from Rising Sun)
    • # of Countries = 53 (comprising 14 from East Front, 25 from West Front and 14 from Rising Sun)

In case you were wondering about map sizes, the largest scenario map I’ve seen thus far is one featured in Rising Sun – at a whopping 149 by 199 hexes, you’re going to have a great time with And… They Came from the Sky!

PS – According to the manual, the largest you can go is a map that is 500 hexes wide.

And… They Came from the Sky!

Now that you’ve an idea of what to expect in JTCS, let’s look at the game proper. After watching an interesting opening video that features live footage from the respective war arenas, you are placed before the Main Menu that presents you with 6 choices:

Play Scenario– play any of the scenarios available in JTCS.

Play Campaign – after creating a character, you can choose from two kinds of campaigns on offer. Dynamic Campaign Games (DCGs) will lead you through random scenarios while Linked Campaign Games (LCGs) follow some important war campaign or operation.
Follow this Band of Brothers as they paradrop in Normandy
The more memorable campaigns for me were the following:
  • Operation Citadel (Kursk) and the mega campaign Operation Barbarossa (divided into three campaigns) from East Front;
  • The Screaming Eagles (think Band of Brothers and Normandy) and the hypothetical Operation Sealion (you play the bad guys here) from West Front; and
  • Operation ShoeString (Guadalcanal), and The Fall of Philippines from Rising Sun.
Scenario Battle – the third choice on the main menu allows you to create for yourself a random scenario. You can change things like Weather, Size of Units (Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps), Map Type, and Engagement Type (Meeting Engagement, Delaying Action, Static Line, Pocket Breakout, Armoured Breakthrough, River Crossing, Bridgehead, Mopping Up, Highway Clearing, Recon Attack, and Mountain Pass).
Assaulting enemies in the Bootcamp (a series of tutorials)

Have a hand at editing an existing scenario or creating one from scratch. The tools that have been provided are the actual ones used by the designers to create the scenarios in the game. There are three tools available and I will present them in the order that you will likely use them.

Edit Map – Create maps like those you find in tabletop wargames; you have five tilesets to choose from (except for East Front which has only one). There’s a built-in random map generator which is quite handy. Afterward, you can fine tune your map and even add contours as well.
Edit Order of Battle – This tool allows you to create an OOB that will appear in the Forces dialog of the Scenario Editor. From there, you can place units into your scenario using the pre-saved OOB.
Try your hand at scenario creation in West Front

Edit Scenario – The Scenario Editor is a complex tool that allows you to select a map and an OOB to create a scenario. You will need to define victory conditions as well as place things like off-board artillery and reinforcements.

When playing a scenario, you can choose to play either side and to enable an AI opponent. You decide who gets the advantage as well as choose optional rules. Once in the game, moving units is easily done with a right click. There’s an Info Box in the upper right corner that summarizes all the important data you need: action points (AP) and unit data including Strength, Morale, Assault, and Defense. You can also opt to turn on the Info Panel with the hot key “U”.

A tool bar appears at the bottom of the screen. It provides you the most important commands that you will use in the game. This is sufficient for play, but if you really need some fine tuning, then the menu bar provides you access to a whole slew of options that you can tweak.

Maybe rotating the map will bring me good luck this time

Other than the new scenarios, tons of country OOB information, and a single new LCG appearing in East Front (titled Black Arrows and Red Guards), JTCS comes with some other shiny new improvements:

  • There are new Naval units to field; these are units that have the special ability to move freely in deep water hexagons.
  • On-map aircraft are either Bomber or Reconnaissance aircraft that can fly anywhere on a map. Unfortunately, they cannot fly over enemy forces nor capture Victory Point locations.
  • You can now employ pontoon ferries and self-propelled boats. These units require a shallow water or marsh hex to operate from.
  • There are now snipers and special anti-tank teams you can use to harass your enemies.
  • You can now field Green or Veteran troops.
  • There are special units that can help you remove wrecks.
  • Bridging engineers can now be deployed to assist your troops.
This will be better that the Bridge on the River Kwai

Graphics
The graphics has not changed that much; although there were changes to the sprite artwork, the game still looks and feels like something that was released in the year 2000. The interface looks the same as before, which can either be good or bad depending on your personal tastes.

The five view modes – three in 3D and two in 2D have carried over to JTCS. You will not likely be using the extreme zoom out modes as the units are barely comprehensible (especially in the high resolution). In the end, you will either play the game in 2D or in 3D. In 3D mode, I still had problems trying to spot my units, luckily I could turn on the unit bases so I can find them.

A desperate gambit on the East Front

Audio
The music featured in East Front, West Front, and Rising Sun have all been preserved for a new generation of players. You will enjoy the variety of music – from ponderous military songs and marches to the exotic Asian music featured in Rising Sun. Sound effects are already doing a good job and have stayed pretty much intact as well.

Pros:
John Tiller’s Campaign Series is the king of content for wargames… get this and you’re set for life. Let’s see, if you play one scenario everyday, you’ll be able to finish the game proper in about two years. Oh yes, the built-in editors will keep you going for the rest of your life. Plus there are plenty of dedicated wargaming fans out there to play with.

  • Need I say more about content in JTCS?
  • The game play mechanics is excellent.
  • Scenario descriptions recommend the side you should play as, although you could choose to play the disadvantaged force as well.
Halfway through the scenario and victory is still uncertain
  • The Campaign Series is excellent for PBEM play. There’s also Internet play as well as Hotseat mode where two players can take turns on the same computer.
  • You get a hefty 178 page PDF user’s manual and a whole plethora of other tutorial documentation found in the Manuals folder.
  • The AI is pretty decent, and you can always give it an advantage if you think you are winning.

Cons:
A couple of minor problems aside, John Tiller’s Campaign Series still comes highly recommended!

  • Despite patching to version 1.04, there were still some minor interface bugs and graphical glitches. At least most of the glaring errors from the Talonsoft release have been nailed.
  • The interface for the entire Campaign Series feels truly old – this would have been a good area to improve the game, but unfortunately not much has been done.
Playing the LCG: The Big Red One in Sicily

Conclusion
John Tiller’s Campaign Series is a game that is akin to fine wine; the older it gets, the greater the experience will be. With a whopping 510 scenarios, 51 campaigns, and 53 countries found in the latest patched version of JCTS, there’s enough within to last you for ages… Make sure you sip slowly and savour the strategy within!

If you love wargames or are seriously contemplating getting into the hobby, then this comes highly recommended!

PS – It’s a good thing I still own a copy of the gold edition pack from Talonsoft featuring all three games. I have also included the review scores for these vintage games. However, it’s best you get John Tiller’s Campaign Series since the improvements and added material made since then are worth every single cent!
Checking out my OOB

The Verdict

8.5Great

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