Highway to the Reich is a rich, rewarding game and a great example of how the designers are using the PC to push wargaming into new and exciting directions.
Panther Games delivered an innovative new kind of wargame last year with Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem. Doing away with the conventional hex-based, turn-based paradigm prevalent in most computer wargames, Panther Games created an exciting new gameplay system that's the closest we've come to experiencing what it's like to be a real general. As much as we liked it, though, the game was a bit thin on content. Highway to the Reich doesn't have that problem--it's an expanded and improved Red Devils Over Arnhem, so much so that it's an entirely new product.
Whereas Red Devils Over Arnhem focused only on the experience of the British 1st Airborne during Operation Market Garden, Highway to the Reich covers the entire campaign from start to finish. Immortalized in the film A Bridge Too Far, Market Garden was Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's daring attempt to open a route into Germany's industrial heartland. The Allies dropped three airborne divisions into Nazi-held Holland to seize a series of strategically vital bridges. At the same time, armored divisions began rolling up the highway that linked the bridges in order to relieve the airborne troops. Unfortunately, due to stiffer-than-expected German resistance and the unexpected presence of two crack SS Panzer divisions, the Allies were stopped short of the final bridge at Arnhem. As a result, the British 1st Airborne, tasked with seizing the last bridge, was decimated. Only a quarter of the division's 10,000 men made it back to Allied lines, and Market Garden was a dismal failure.
Highway to the Reich features more than 30 scenarios, split into the four distinct theaters of the operation: the British 1st Airborne at Arnhem, the 101st at Eindhoven, the 82nd at Nijmegen, and XXX Corps' drive up the highway. All the scenarios can be played as either the Allies or the Axis, though some are designed to be played from a certain side. Given that Market Garden involved both lightly armed paratroop units and heavily mechanized armored divisions, there's a challenging mix of scenarios. In the airborne campaigns, you'll spread your paratroops desperately thin as you try to seize and then hold your bridges against waves of German counterattacks. In XXX Corps' scenarios, you have the challenge of trying to funnel two tank divisions up a long, narrow highway with Germans constantly nipping at your flanks. Even though you have an overwhelming advantage in artillery and armor, you'll find it hard slogging to keep up with the almost insane timetable. In real life, the Allies expected XXX Corps to reach its first objective in three hours. It ended up taking three days, and the airborne troops waiting for reinforcements found themselves holding out for far longer than expected. The innovative and elegant gameplay system that debuted in Red Devils Over Arnhem remains pretty much intact. It's a real-time system that can be paused to give orders and accelerated to speed the lulls between battles. But the beauty of the system is that it features a historically accurate order of battle that re-creates the chain of command; in other words, if you want something done, all you have to do is tell a unit to do it, and that unit will run with the task, issuing orders to its subordinate units to get the job done.
It may sound a bit confusing, so for an example we'll use Easy Company, which was featured in Band of Brothers and is an actual unit in the game. Easy is part of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. There are two other companies in 2nd Battalion, Dog and Fox, and two other battalions in the regiment. That means Easy is one of nine airborne companies that make up the 506th. Now let's say that there's a town that needs to be seized. If you know the town is undefended, you can order Easy Company to do the job, and Easy will organize a company-sized attack. If the town is lightly defended, you can give the order to 2nd Battalion headquarters, and it will organize a battalion-sized attack using all three companies under its command: Dog, Easy, and Fox. If the town is heavily defended, you can give the order to 506th headquarters, and it will organize a regimental-sized attack using all three battalions, and all nine airborne companies, under its command.