Divided Ground is the latest iteration of Talonsoft’s long-running East Front/West Front series. It covers the Arab-Israeli wars from 1948 through 1973, focusing on the forces of Israel, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Like its predecessors, it is, in essence, a tabletop miniatures game adapted for the computer. It plays much like an advanced version of Command Decision or Spearhead with a scale of 200 meters per hex and 5-10 minute turns. If you’ve ever played the old Avalon Hill PanzerBlitz derivative Arab-Israeli Wars, you will feel right at home with this game.
In general DG plays much like the previous entries in the series. However, there are a few notable changes. First, the scenarios (with the exception of those covering the fight for Jerusalem) are armor-heavy. If you want close-in infantry fights, play Rising Sun. Secondly, night battles are now effectively modeled. Starshells, flaming wrecks and gunfire light up the night, providing some really interesting (and chaotic!) battles.
Graphically, DG is decent. The map is obviously composed of hexagons, but the wide variety of terrain hexes makes for good-looking and informative maps, if not particularly realistic. The vehicles, on the other hand, are about as good as you are going to find. They compare favorably to those in the later Panzer General series. Sound, likewise, is simple but effective.
Like most Talonsoft games, the computer AI is quite competitive. The bonehead moves and predictability that define other AIs such as Steel Panthers is missing. If you leave a gap in your defenses or if you overextend your forces during an advance, expect the AI to take advantage of it.
While all the scenarios are winnable, they are also generally quite challenging. A player that behaves in a tactically inept manner, such as by charging a mech infantry company into an un-reconnoitered area, is likely to find his forces rapidly annihilated. In many ways, this is a realistic portrayal of the lethality of modern weapons vis-a-vis their WWII counterparts featured in previous editions of this series. Novices may be slightly turned off by this aspect of the game.
With four campaign, 22 scenarios and a scenario editor, the game has decent replayability value. Oddly enough, however, I have not found any user-designed scenarios available, which is odd given the vast number other Talonsoft products (such as The Operational Art of War) have spawned. The scenarios cover a fairly wide variety of situations, from the desperate battles surrounding the founding of Israel to the massive armor battle on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai. Online play definitely adds to longevity of the game.
The unit database is very good, on par with the Steel Panthers series. Additionally, a fair bit of effort has been put in to assuring that formation (ie companies and battalions actually contain the correct sub-units) which adds a great deal to the verisimilitude of the game.
I do have some complaints about the game, however. First, it is a resource hog. On a 500mhz AMD with 128 megs of memory, the game is slow to load and slow to play. In the larger scenarios, it can often take three to five minutes for the computer to play its turn. The interface is also a bit unwieldy. The command buttons on the bottom of the screen are useful once you get used to them, but they are not intuitive and take some time to learn. Overall, the program’s interfaces aren’t really up to modern game standards. They are fully functional, but there is a small learning curve.
Additionally, the game’s scale occasionally results in non-historical outcomes to certain situations. In particular, it is not uncommon for a rifle platoon to lose three or four squads when it ‘discovers’ a minefield. Realistically, at most, several individuals would be lost while the rest of the platoon would halt in place. This is also true with urban fights; units that walk in to a hedge bordered by an enemy unit or two are often mauled, when in reality they would lose only a squad or so before taking cover.
Finally, while this is technically a stand-alone game, the documentation assumes a strong grasp of the previous entries in the series. The manual is all of about 15 pages – it covers only the barest rudiments of play. There is no tactical advice, nor is there any serious instructions for the scenario and map editors. There are files in the game which cover unit descriptions and organizations, but they are rather unwieldy. Given the previous documentation-heavy releases from Talonsoft, I was rather surprised at the sparseness of the manual.
Overall, this is a relatively enjoyable game. However, you come away with the feeling that Talonsoft could just as easily have been released as a scenario pack. It is fun to play, but the system is starting to look a bit dated. Still, for those of us who look back fondly at the wargames of our youth, it is good to see game such as this still being made.