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Combat Mission: Cold War expands a franchise with roots in old-school wargaming

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Advanced Squad Leader still lives on as a tabletop game as well

A tank stands on a grassy field, a roadway and a giant cloud of dust in the background. Image: Battlefront/Slitherine

On Tuesday, independent game developer and publisher Battlefront announced Combat Mission: Cold War, the latest in its long-running series of PC-based wargames. The series itself dates back more than 20 years, and is the spiritual successor of the seminal wargame known as Squad Leader.

Originally published by Avalon Hill in 1977, Squad Leader and its sequel, Advanced Squad Leader, is about as old-school as modern wargames get. Aficionados use cardboard chits smaller than a postage stamp to recreate historic battles on the table. Actions between small units can take hours, often days to play out with tweezers.

In 2013, Polygon told the story of how Battlefront co-founders Steve Grammont and Charles Moylan turned their pitch to Avalon Hill into a successful series of turn-based PC wargames in 2000. The series was reinvigorated in 2010 with Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy, which also added a real-time mode. The underlying game engine has since been used to recreate fictional conflicts in modern-day Syria and Ukraine.

This next entry in the series will carefully recreate the weapon systems developed for the Cold War between the United States and Russian forces, including main battle tanks and squad-portable anti-tank weapons. Fans should expect much larger battlefields and completely different experience when it comes to command and control, line of sight, and fog of war.

While the Combat Mission series originally pioneered some amazing features — like modeling the morale of individual units, and handling dice rolls for every single round fired in the game — the guts of the engine itself are a bit dated. Polygon reached out to Grammont and asked if any updates are on the way to improve the game’s speed on modern computers, or to improve the graphical fidelity. He said the current plan was to build Cold War first, then swing back around and upgrade the engine in late 2021 — which will improve performance for many games in the series.

“Our intention is to add a number of other new features that enhance gameplay,” Grammont said in an email. “What these features are in detail I can not say because even I don’t know. Our normal practice is to keep development flexible right up until the end. That way we don’t promise things which turn out to be impractical once we get to coding. Keeping the details of an Upgrade flexible is good practice, though admittedly not as marketable! As we complete portions of Upgrade 5 we’ll let people know what to expect.”

The Combat Mission games recently made the move to Steam, with the help of Battlefront’s new publishing partner Slitherine. You can add Combat Mission: Cold War to your wishlist, but no pricing or release date has been announced.