A long time ago, there was a TV commercial for a brand of jelly that had a somewhat unappetizing name: it was “Smucker’s,” and the tagline in the commercial was, “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good!” The logic of good taste being directly attributable to an awkward name escaped me at the time, and continues to elude me to this very day. These memories came back to me when I was introduced to Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. With a name like that, and using the relationship of name to game mentioned above, well, this game must be better than good - it must be fabulous!
As I typically do when confronted with a name that does very little to convey what the game is all about, I grabbed the description from their advertising materials:
Based on the hugely popular tabletop RPG from Modiphius Entertainment, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is an occult turn-based strategy game pitting players against a rogues’ gallery of Lovecraftian beings controlled by the Nazis. You’ll have to use your cunning military tactics, along with some nifty supernatural powers, to save the world. Set in an alternate history of World War II where the Nazis’ investigations into the occult have resulted in the summoning of Lovecraftian monsters, you’ll have to take the reigns of Charlie Company, an elite band of allied forces sent in to do the impossible; foil the Nazi plans and turn the tide of war.
To be honest, they kind of lost me at “Lovecraftian,” which is a word I don’t believe that I have ever encountered before, but the rest sounded good. Because Nazis, I suppose. Who doesn’t like to foil the Nazis, right? I generally prefer to be firing lead projectiles over supernatural powers when doing so, but that is an area where I will make exceptions. That just leaves “Lovecraftian” to decode, but Google made short work of that:
Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown (and in some cases, unknowable) more than gore or other elements of shock, though these may still be present.
I’m actually okay with that. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but I hate shock and gore even more, so I deemed it to be worth a try. I’m glad I did.
I have many love/hate relationships, and turn-based strategy games is one of them. Whether I like any given turn-based strategy game is, not surprisingly, often decided by the gameplay. Actually, the real determining factor, although I hate to admit it publicly, is how badly I get beaten. Video games have been proving that I made the right decision when I chose to enlist in the Air Force rather than the Army for decades now. It seems that I have very little tactical sense when it comes to leading troops in battle. For whatever it’s worth, I did well enough in Achtung! to have a good time with it. That’s not to say that I didn’t suffer any humiliating losses, because I did, but it was just once and it was my first battle.
In fact, the only real issue I had with the game at all was when I first launched it and subsequently had to turn off or disconnect every other controller currently attached to the PC to keep the cursor from flying through the menus seemingly of its own volition. I really despise having to do that. Once done, though, I get over it quickly and jump into the game. In this case, I was happy that I was able to fix it that easily - you never know what's going to happen when you add the occult to the mix.
Turn-based battle games are quite common, so you more or less know most of what is going to happen and what you will be doing as the player pretty much from the start. You will be familiar with movements, energy management, spells, powers, power-ups, skills, etc. and most, if not all, of this is included with Achtung!
From the very beginning, the WWII motif exudes a feeling of quality. You are presented with a map laid out on a rough hewn table - this map is used to decide if you want to select a Story mission or a Side mission. The narration is also quite good and helps to set the mood. This is also the screen that shows you your squad members and provides access to each squad members traits, skills, and abilities, some of which can be improved with experience gained through battles. There is a fairly large set of skills that can be learned, although I stayed with damage increases, better aiming, and anything else that I thought would help these guys in their primary function, which I decided was “keeping me alive.”
The next screen allows you to equip each member of the squad with the weapons, accessories, or items that will best fit the impending mission. This too is an area where I mostly opted to give them weapons that would help them to keep me alive. Naturally, some of the weapons are mission-specific and not necessarily what I would have chosen if there were more options. Captain Eric Harris, for example, had something called a Blevin Carbine, which is a gun that “expels a directed blast of steam strong enough to cut metal.” Yeah, all well and good, that, is we were getting ready to knock over a bank. Not so good in defending your’s truly, as it turns out. Capt. Harris spent a lot of time acting as a rear guard.
Once past that, you’re just about ready to start the mission. First, however, a British-sounding guy reads your mission objectives to you while you read them from the displayed telegram. From there, it’s straight to the battlefield. You’re looking down at yourself and your squad in a 3D isometric view. Displayed along with each of the squad members is a listing of their current health and movement points. There is also a meter for luck, which in play seems to be very similar to a shield. When attacked, a troop’s luck is depleted first, and any additional hits go against health.
Action Points (AP) are used for movement, attacking, reloading, and various other activities; they are basically your fuel. A typical move while in battle involves balancing how far you move against what you want to do when you get there. If you have 12 points to spend and you move 12 spots, you are not going to be able to do anything at all once you’ve arrived at the chosen spot. There is an exception to that: when not in combat, movement is free. There are also Momentum Points which can be used for additional attacks, but I was never sure where they came from or how to get more of them. They were either there or not - if I had them, I used them.
Rather than luck, the Nazi’s have the benefit of the Fog of War, which basically means that you can’t see them until they are within range. There is an exception to this, too: you can sometimes seem opponents moving shadily through the darkness, possibly simulating that you heard them rustling through the woods. As an aside, my performance was vastly improved when I started paying more attention to their flanking moves. As you move your troops, the fog dissipates in the direction you’re headed, but fills in behind you. As you plan your moves, the symbols will appear at your presumed stopping point to indicate how well covered you will be. I found that I wasn’t always able to find the kind of cover that I needed, which led to some difficult decisions. Leading isn’t easy, and it can be dreadfully lonely. There’s a lot of pressure in protecting the people that you need to protect you!
Once you enter combat, moving each member of your team becomes a multi-step process. First, if you need the soldier to move, you select the destination spot, taking care to make sure there will be sufficient cover. Before finalizing the selection, you also have to set the cone of vision to the direction where you think/hope the enemy will emerge. Also, if you have enough energy, you can direct the soldier to do “Overwatch,” which will cause them to shoot at the first moving enemy they see when the Nazi’s are making their moves. Overwatch is one of the things the momentum points are used for. I also used them a lot for short range attacks, and that turned out to be a lifesaver any number of times.
Once positioned, if there are enough AP points still in the bank, the soldier can be commanded to attack. This doesn’t have to be decided right away; you can interact with each of your troops in any order that you want.
From there it becomes a numbers game, just as if you were still rolling dice in a board game. This can be very, very frustrating for players that play FPS games more frequently - seeing your soldier standing right next to an enemy shoulder miss with a pistol shot is infuriating! It’s the nature of the game, though, so you have to simply swallow your frustration and hope the enemy is just as unlucky when it’s his turn. Or, now and then momentum points come into play.
Overall, I ended up winning more battles than I expected to, which may be an indication that the game will be too easy for people that play a lot in this genre. I enjoyed that aspect of the game, but it didn’t seem to scale in difficulty very quickly, if at all. There didn’t seem to be much variety in the maps, either, so no single mission really stood out from the rest and it all started to feel repetitive after the first few missions.
Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is competently built, attractive to look at in some areas, but rather bland in others. The gameplay was approachable and the difficulty curve was shallow, so players experienced in the genre may find it to be too easy to provide a meaningful challenge. Conversely, players new to the genre, or those that aren’t especially good at it, will likely find it to be more engaging. In either case, the mechanics worked well and it didn’t take too long to get comfortable with moving the squad members around and having them perform their attacks, although there is some mild complexity in trying to determine where and how to build some of the more important strengths, such as gaining momentum points. To be fair, it is quite possible that this information was provided and I simply forgot it. In the long run it didn’t really matter, as long as I had them when I needed them.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.