The Star and the Crescent

Review

posted 12/27/2006 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
Platforms: PC
Were you in the Israeli Army on the morning of October 6, 1973? Do you remember which way you were facing when the Egyptians started crossing the Suez Canal? No? Well, these guys do. In fact, there is a message board somewhere where these guys are bitterly divided over which way you should have been facing.
 
The Star and the Crescent is one of those games that is more historical re-creation than game. You will be presented with the situation as it existed historically. There is some flexibility in deployment of units and emplacements before the action starts that allows for some pre-battle adjustments. Overall, however, you’ll be limited to the actual forces that were historically available.
 
Your job, then, if you accept it, is to take the forces assigned to you and meet some well-specified objectives. You’re not very high up in the army so you’ll be following a battle plan from higher-up. This plan consists mainly of a few red arrows drawn on your map. These arrows are your avenues of advance (if you’re not attacking, you don’t even get them). Start sending guys down them and don’t worry about the rest of the front. Also provided are some air strikes and OPORD.
 
You have three elements to manipulate in order to fulfill the objectives: space, time and tools. Space comes in the form of the map. TSC wants to be a boardgame. All of the action takes place on the map, generally right in front of you. You can choose a contour map (good for line-of-sight determination) or a color map (rather brown). Time exists in a handy continuous-time package, with pause-time orders, “regular” time, and various speeded-up rates.
 
The tools provided are the heart of what’s good about TSC. They’re also the root of what’s bad about it. They break down into three areas: movement, orders, and organization.
 
The movement system epitomizes the entire game. It is very flexible and powerful as well as confusing. It’s basically a path planning system: go here, then there, then over there, and so on. An interesting twist is that a node can be designated as a “stop” node – the unit will stop when it gets there. Paths can also be copied, pasted, deleted, folded, spindled and mutilated. It can be very difficult to find out why a unit is just sitting there, or why it won’t accept new orders.
 
Units don’t just move around. They shoot at things and stuff. IN TSC, they can be ordered to do things in at least 500 different ways, including: direct fire, indirect fire, mount/dismount units, lay smoke, defilade, reload, lay mines, breach obstacles, creep, and take lunch money. If a unit can do something in real life, it can probably do it in-game. This is great if you want to put some infantry in a half-track, drive to some hills, let the infantry off, have them sneak over the hills to call in an artillery barrage, the sneak back, get in the halftrack, and go home. It’ll take a half-hour or so to actually input all this into the interface, but this is not a game of immediate gratification.
 
The scale of organization is flexible. At the bottom is the individual unit (a single vehicle or dismounted team) up to the company (3-6 platoons). Orders can be given at any level of the hierarchy. This helps immensely in controlling the complexity of controlling the number of units in larger scenarios.
 
TSC runs on the Armored Task Force Engine (ATFE). The ATFE has been the foundation of two previous games – Armored Task Force (surprise!) and Raging Tiger: The Second Korean War. On the plus side, ATFE is reasonably stable and (maybe too) well featured. It supports building your own scenarios and multi-player. There is a short tutorial composed of a walkthrough of one of the included scenarios. It also supports some near-future scenarios that are included. The engine does a good job of representing units of the era, and much interesting information about the units is included in the manual. The AI is acceptable.
 
On the minus side, the graphics would be considered basic on a graphing calculator. There is a lot of information on your units, but no way to tell what’s going on overall without stopping frequently and polling every unit. Unit controls are powerful, but needlessly complicated. Commands are often at the wrong level – it would be nice to be able to order “stay on the road behind the tanks” without having to enter a zillion waypoints.
 
This is a tough game to rate. On the one hand, it’s a very realistic simulation with all the bells and whistles a hard-core old-school war gamer could want. On the other hand, if you’re not into recreating historical battles at excruciating levels of detail this game will bore you stiff. 
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