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Steel Armor - Blaze of War

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On campaign with the new release of Graviteam’s Cold War wargame/tanksim!

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These days, Ukrainian developers Graviteam are famous principally for their PC wargames. These started life on World War 2’s Eastern Front as Achtung Panzer - Kharkov 1943 and morphed into the Graviteam Tactics series, ranging into other theatres and periods in the process. However, as many of us will know, Graviteam have also developed tanksims, not least one of my current favourites, Steel Fury – Kharkov 1942. While the latter lacks some of the more sophisticated features of tanksim classic Panzer Elite, it has some nice touches of its own and with the support of a talented modding community, still provides a top-notch first or third person simulation of fighting WW2 tanks in an all-arms battle, at platoon-to-company level.

Combining the wargame and tanksim genres is Steel Armour – Blaze of War (SABOW), dating from 2011 and now re-released with the game engine of the Graviteam Tactics wargame. I recently updated my GamersGate SABOW to the latest version - patches are available on the Graviteam SABOW forums as well as via GG and now Steam - and decided to give it a go. I have had SABOW for some time, but confess that I had previously been put off by its rather complex-seeming interface and somewhat difficult documentation, both of which received some attention in the upgrade.

 

This being a combination of a wargame and a tanksim - more about how this mix works for me, later - there's a lot to learn. And I'm still somewhere along the early part of that big learning curve. So while nominally a mission report, this piece is more of a tanksimmer's first impressions of SABOW, after playing it on and off over the last few weeks.

The setting
SABOW is set in the later stages of the Cold War. The action itself centres on three single-player campaigns, following the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1979-89) and the middle years of the long Angolan Civil War (MPLA & Cuba vs UNITA & South Africa, 1975-2002). There is also an easy-to-use ‘quick mission builder’ with which you can in a couple of minutes plonk tanks and other units from each side onto a map and kick off the fighting, largely by-passing the ‘wargame’ element. To this, the new version has now added an ‘instant action’ option – click a main menu icon of either a T-62 or an M60A1 and you are pitched straight into a pre-set battle; no setting up involved.

The tanks
Two of the tanks featured in SABOW are playable, for the tanksim component of the game. First, there’s the Soviet T-62. This is used by the Iraqi Army in the (first) Gulf War campaign, by the Soviets in Afghanistan, and by the MPLA’s Cuban ‘advisors’ in the Angola campaign.  Second, there’s the US M60A1, used by the Iranian Army in the Gulf War campaign. Yes that’s right – there are no playable units for the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan or for the UNITA/South African side in the Angolan campaign – for those campaigns, you can only fight in the T-62. Which was quite a tank, in its day, despite famously taking a hiding from Israeli Centurions in the ‘Valley of Tears’ during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The T-62 introduced smoothbore guns firing fin-stabilised discarding sabot AP rounds to mainstream tank warfare and with decent armour and a low, ballistically-well-shaped profile, it was a tank to be reckoned with, in its day.

 

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The M60A1 needs little introduction to any tank enthusiast. The successor to the post-WW2 M47 and M48 Patton tanks and still in widespread service a half-century after the original version appeared, the tall but sleek M60A1 boasts the famous British L7 105mm rifled tank gun, a stereoscopic rangefinder and a good combat record...not least with the Iranian Army, as featured in this sim and seen in the screenshot at the top of this post, in one of the several paint schemes you can select.

 

The playable SABOW tanks have excellent animated interiors, to which the new release has made some improvements (including more readable internal signage!) Below is the M60A1 turret interior, seen from the loader's position. Standing to the right is the Tank Commander. Seated to the left, ahead of him, is the gunner. You can just about see the driver, lower down, below and left of the breech of the 105mm main gun. All crew figures are nicely animated.

 

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Below is the first-person view of the Tank Commander, hands on the controls of his rotating, machine-gun-armed cupola. The sights and view ports you can see here are all usable, as are those for the other crew members. To the TC's right, you can see the back of the gunner and to the left, you can just about see the loader. To the far left are the tubes in the turret rear bussle which hold the ready-use main gun rounds.

 

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The T-62 is just as nicely done. Below is the TC's closed-up view, looking across at the loader (autoloaders in Soviet tanks didn't put this guy out of a job until the T-64 series appeared). In the pic below that, is the TC's view with both crew unbuttoned, the loader dutifully manning the formidable 'Dushka' 12.7mm machine gun.

 

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There's a goodly selection of AI-manned kit in the sim, in addition to the two playable tanks. AFV-wise, this includes the Olifant (South African Centurion) and the same army's Ratel wheeled Infantry Fighting Vehicle, both seen below somewhat the worse for wear...

 

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..and as well as infantry, sundry APCs and IFVs and various crew-served weapons, there's my fave tank, the British Chieftain, here in Iranian service...

 

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Personally I would have preferred a ‘Cold War gone hot’, central European setting for all this nice kit and a couple or so more playable tanks, but SABOW's well-replicated tanks and three featured theatres are something of a novelty and the latter replicate real rather than imaginary conflicts, which is no bad thing. So, how does it all come together in practice? Let's find out how I got on!

...to be continued!

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Making a start!

 

I mentioned earlier that SABOW's interface and documentation, which I found difficult before, have been improved with the new release. This makes it easier to get straight to the tank-simming, mostly or completely by-passing the wargame element.

 

The most visible manifestation of this is the main menu, which now boasts what is effectively an 'Instant Action' option. Note the icons of an M60A1 and a T-62, over on the right - seen?

 

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Click on one of these and you are plonked into the gunner's seat in the tank of your choice...in this case, the T-62.

 

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This isn't a detailed review so I'm not going to get into describing the on-screen aids you can see above, except to say that you can turn them off easily and that they comprise a rather Star Wars-like situational awareness header and at bottom, a set of icons for various functions. The latter is context sensitive - the icons displayed differ to an extent, according to the position you are occupying, in your tank. I will also say that I would prefer if more commands were available as hotkeys - for example, a hotkey will cycle you through the different platoon formations available, but to chose one directly, I think you need to click on icons.

 

From any crew station a click or two will change your viewpoint, cycling between internal 'cockpit' view (seen above) to sights to viewports. Limited night vision aids are available, as we will see later. The screenshot below shows the view through the T-62 gunsight, with an authentic reticle. No laser rangefinder here - as well as the range scales for different ammo types and the aiming mark below those, you have marks for what's called 'stadiametric rangefinding' whereby the little 'ski jump' set of markings on the lower right can be used against the known height of typical targets, to estimate their range. I have been playing mostly the T-62, until I get the hang of the M60A1's more sophisticated fire control system, with its stereoscopic rangefinder. For now I have been simply guessing ranges using the 'appearance' method or 'bracketing' and correcting from the fall of shot as necessary - though the realistic levels of 'obscuration' when firing make the latter quite tricky. Still, gunnery in SABOW I'm enjoying a lot, thus far.

 

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The new 'Instant Action' feature is very welcome. At the moment it generates a fixed battle, with your platoon up against an unspecified (but perhaps slightly more numerous) enemy. Graviteam say that they plan to expand this to provide some sort of mission context or briefing and perhaps training elements. But even as it stands, 'Instant Action' is a good way to practice everything from gunnery to driving (or from the Tank Commander station, directing the movements of) your tank; and managing your own tank platoon. Here is my T-62 platoon lined up at the start of one such fight. I believe this is the terrain from the Iran-Iraq campaign, which comprises flat desert with some vegetation and stretches of live or dead woodland, interspersed with deep and sometimes impassable gullies or irrigation ditches. This seems to be the default terrain and what you get every time, unless you are 'on campaign'. EDIT - a quick re-check confirms that you can select a different battlefield via the 'Quick Battle Settings' screen described later - the second pic below shows the Cuito Cuanavale map from the Angola campaign.

 

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The 'Instant Action' option completely by-passes the wargame element of SABOW. The other (slightly less) direct route to the tank-simming is what in the new release is called the 'Battle Editor' - see the main menu screenshot above.  This skips only some of the wargame or setup elements that you are faced with, in campaign mode. But it gives you a good deal of choice over the battle you will generate, unlike the 'Instant Action' alternative. Here's how it works.

 

Having clicked on 'Battle Editor' (if you have saved your last such battle, this instead offers 'Continue Battle') you will be taken to the screen, below. This allows you to place units from your side, from your side's 'allies' or from the enemy, with just a few mouseclicks. Easy-peasy. The map below already shows units which I have deployed - green = user-playable, red = other friendly forces, blue = enemy forces.

 

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While placing units, you can click back and forth to the 'Quick Battle Settings' screen below. This enables you to chose various parameters, including which side is friendly and which, enemy. You can specify that your enemy will just be inert targets, which will not fire back - perfect to get in some practice while avoiding the frustration, so common with a new sim, of being rapidly killed off while still at the 'total newb' stage.

 

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Having set things up - and it's a quick and easy process, once you have done it once or twice - a couple more clicks will start the battle. And off you go. This time, however, unlike 'Instant Action', you have a couple more steps to go through, from the wargame side of SABOW, before you get to do the tank-simming bit. 

 

First, you are presented with the 'Unit Deployment' screen. Here it is and as you can see, it's a view of a segment of the main map, where the SABOW wargame sub-program has calculated that a contact/battle will take place, between the units you have just positioned. You can click through this screen or if you're not in a hurry and feel like a bit of wargaming, you can set up and orient your units' starting positions using the supplied icons. Your side's tanks are the little sets of red diamonds, with the green one, roughly in the centre of the next screenie, being the tank you will occupy when the fighting starts. You can change this so as to fight in any playable tank on your side, now or I think later, during the battle.

 

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Now you get to fight, yes? Well, no, actually. Click to proceed and you are presented with another, very similar map, this time titled 'Initial Orders'. Here you can...well, give orders to your forces. As in the 'Unit Deployment' map, these are organised and repesented as platoons and it is these to which you give your orders, primarily. When you get to do the tanksimming, you will be playing the role of a platoon leader. Here, though, you are playing the role of his boss, the overall commander of the (typically) company-sized force that is probably what you ended up with, when placing your units originally. A different set of icons lets you give movement, attack, defense and many other orders to all of your platoons. Quite powerful it seems and takes a bit of learning, unless you are used to this interface from playing tactical wargames, especially the Graviteam variety. If you don't fancy any of this you can just click through it and assume command of your chosen tank platoon, although this will leave the rest of your force sitting about, bereft of orders.

 

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Why Graviteam chose to have you step through two similar maps like this, rather than combining them into one, is hard to say. Perhaps the split is logical and/or it enables lots of functions to be included without icon overload. Anyway, and finally, the virtual tanking can begin. A couple more clicks and at last, you are good to start putting some steel onto targets. You start from the Tank Commander's station of your chosen side's playable Main Battle Tank - in this case, the M60A1.

 

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This - the Battle Editor, supplemented now that it's also available by the 'Instant Action' feature -  is where I spent most of my first week or so playing SABOW, learning the ropes. And there's quite a lot of ropes to learn. Which is much as it has been with any tanksim after Panzer Commander, I suppose. A bit more so than Steel Fury to be sure, because of the more sophisticated tanks and the more sophisticated level of control the newer interface offers. My impressions so far are numerous, and include:

 

- the visuals and effects are really very good, inside and out;

 

- the two playable tanks are superbly modelled;

 

- sounds are better than Steel Fury, with the speed of sound replicated, as in Steel Beasts;

 

- there is very little radio traffic, leaving you reliant on pulling up the map view to see what other tanks or troops have spotted;

 

- the infantry are neat but can appear pretty dumb at times, popping their heads up from cover like targets in a shooting gallery;

 

- sabot rounds seem less effective than I was expecting, richochetting frequently; and

 

- I wish there was a 'voices in English' option as I don't speak Farsi, Iraqi Arabic or Russian and prefer to leave the 'HUD' on-screen aids (which display spoken messages as text) turned off when I can.

 

There are some frustrations, apart from the learning curve. When the T-62's 115mm main gun is reloading, it elevates and takes the gunner's sight with it, potentially breaking your line of sight to the target. Elevation and traverse is also locked out. Realistic no doubt but can be a pain.

 

Drivers can be another pain. If faced with an obstacle like an irrigation ditch they will stop and ignore commands to advance, even if you have decided to chance it and risk having to 'abandon ship', like these guys.

 

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You can over-ride this behaviour by switching to the driver's seat. There also seem to be times when directional commands to the driver are ignored, for no apparent reason. The AI driver seems to have too much of a mind of his own, at such times.

 

However, 'Instant Action' and the Battle Editor are great ways to get into SABOW's tanksimming component with little or none of the wargaming interface, getting in your way. The new documentation helps, with sections geared towards helping you do just this and understand and use your chosen tank's features and systems. This little video clip from 'Sim Deck' also helped:

 

 

Finally, though, I decided it was time to get to grips with the beast, the whole beast, and nothing but the beast (with apologies to

, featuring an Israeli T-55 capture representing a Soviet T-62 in Afghanistan). Time to go on campaign!

 

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...to be continued!

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Was it not Chuikov that said to the U-5TS developping team something like "Mount this gun on a pig, if necessary, but make it comes into service!".

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Was it not Chuikov that said to the U-5TS developping team something like "Mount this gun on a pig, if necessary, but make it comes into service!".

 

Nice one! sounds like something that a no-nonsense Soviet General would have said!

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On the campaign trail!


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Having semi-familiarised myself with the quick and instant battle options, it was time to try my hand at one of SABOW’s three campaigns. I don’t know about you but for me, the single player campaign is the immersive, beating heart of any sim and it’s where I like to spend most of my time.  On campaign,  I’m not much bothered about medals, promotions, crew management or other trimmings. They are nice to have but most important is some sort of context for the series of operations featured – just enough to pull you in, adding a sense of time and place – immersion, in a word. Hence, while I prefer the’ fully-equipped’ campaigns of M1 Tank Platoon II to the themed sets of scripted missions possible with Steel Beasts or Steel Fury, the latter approach I find quite acceptable.

Steel Armor’s take on campaigns is different again. While you get three ready-made campaigns, one playable from either side, you aren’t cast in the role of a specific tank platoon commander, but as the boss of a larger force who, once battle has been joined, can jump into a platoon leader role – for any platoons that have user-playable tanks, that is. Furthermore, the SABOW manual says that campaign battles will proceed in distinct turns, each consisting of a player move, the enemy AI reacting, then combats being generated (at which points the player gets to do the actual tank-simming) and finally the outcomes and results being generated.  I wasn’t at all sure just how this hybrid ‘tanksim within a wargame’ approach would actually work in practice, but it was time to find out!

For my first campaign, I opted to play for the Iraqi side in a T-62, in the war with Iran. The terrain is a little bland, apart from those pesky irrigation ditches, but I decided I would rather fight a conventional tank battle in open country, than against Afghan insurgents or in the Angolan jungle.

There are two ‘sub-campaigns’ or battles available for the Iran-Iraq War (named in SABOW for the Iranian attack wich kicked off the battles, 'Khuzestan Offensive') and I chose the second, having read a little of the featured action, the Battle of Sousangerd. Here, the ambitious Iranian offensive got literally bogged down in difficult ‘going’ and was heavily defeated by the less numerous but briskly-handled Iraqi forces. The 'tooltip' visible below shows how the operation's 'victory points' will be calculated). As is apparently standard in SABOW, and in line with real life, most points come from the occupation of important territory ('Point capture').

 

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You start in wargame mode, called ‘Operational mode' in SABOW campaigns. Like this:


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The little briefing panel, top left, tells me it's 6 January 1981. It's the first 'turn of the battle ('phase' would have been a more military, less 'game-y' term) and I'm evidently responsible for the force described as 'the tank units of the 10th Detached Armor Brigade' (in fact my command will be approximately a tank company, far short of even a weak brigade). It seems the Iranians are advancing from the north and my command, for now, is to concentrate on the enemy's left flank

First time out, I lost patience with the planning maps and their blocks of icons which follow - map nerds, feel ye not neglected, I'll show you these later. Ordered to take an enemy attack in the flank, I decided to leave two of my three T-62 platoons in place as a base of fire. Going straight into tank-simming mode, I would take my third platoon off to the west. I would cross the irrigation channel to the north at a ford, in between two marked enemy positions, which I would then attack, starting with the one on my right, nearest my supporting platoons. Not a very good plan but as they say, a bad plan is better than no plan at all. It was rather dark when the 3d world loaded but I had already plotted my route from the map, to take advantage of what cover there was. I got my platoon of three T-62s into column and off we went.

 

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Happily, we weren’t fired upon, despite our drivers repeatedly turning on their lights, which I struggled to keep extinguished. Fortunately, the enemy, still unseen in the dark to the north, remained inactive.

 

Things still deteriorated fairly rapidly. First, crossing what looked like a thin stretch of undergrowth that ran across our route, my tank fell into what turned out to be a deep gully, filled with the vegetation which had also concealed it. In the screenshot below, you can probably see as little of that b****y gully as I could, before I drove smack into it, but if you look closely, there I am, in my T-62, stuck in a rather large rut. Mostly, the screen illustrates the platoon command menu that pops up, when you click on the relevant icon in the block that runs along the bottom of the screen. I can't remember what I was trying to do when I called this up, but getting out of that b****y hole probably had something to do with it. In fact, looking at the pic again, I think this was taken just after I had managed to crawl out of the gully and was trying to prevent my platoon-mates from following me into the thing.

 

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Lots of backing and filling eventually got me out. What my AI platoon-mates made of this performance is best left to the imagination. A little further along, nearing the point where I would turn right and north towards the enemy, I came across another, shallower, more open gully, running my way. I duly drove into this, as it provided excellent cover and the floor and sides were clear and the latter not as steep. Below is my night vision view of the new gully ahead, through the driver's scope if I recall right.

 

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By this time, it had started to rain; the wet stuff was coming down in sheets. Maybe, driving into this gully mightn't be such a good idea...

 

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Perhaps the rain didn't help but my tank bogged down trying to get out the other end of this new gully and this time there was no shifting her, whether I let the AI driver try, or had a go myself. In the end, I decided the mission was pretty well compromised to heck and gave up. Time to start over and try again!

 

...to be continued!

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Contact!

 

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Starting the campaign again, I was faced with the same general situation. This time the battle had progressed to 'Turn 2'. It appeared that this phase of the operation had generated some fighting over to the west, on the opposite side of the battlefield from my force. You can see the little flame symbols and flashing red rings indicating this, over on the left of the map. Note that the units over there appear as yellow markers, indicating that they are 'Allies' - friendly forces, but not under player control. Note also the breifing panel, top left, which has been keeping score. This includes Turn 2, which seems to have played out without generating a new mission for me. So the SABOW wargame engine is now moving us on to Turn 3.

 

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And Turn 3 has now generated me another mission! This is now spelt out in the briefing panel. In short, friendly forces to our left are withdrawing and we must take the enemy advance in the flank and stop it. I rather like the look of this! The wargame element is playing out a credible, larger battle and from this, it's generating missions for my force which fit into the wider scenario, as it develops. Good stuff!

 

Another pic I should show you here is the 'Condition of units' screen, seen below. This, you can call up from the map. It 'does what it says on the tin', as you can see. Obviously, it helps when you understand what all the little symbols mean, under each column. Many are fairly self-explanatory, like the ammo and fuel supply status indicators; another one covers morale. There are repair & resupply facilities in SABOW but this early in the fight, I figured I would skip that and get down to some fighting.

 

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I decided that this time, I would try to get a co-ordinated attack going, involving all three tank platoons under my command (there should really also have been a separate ‘Company HQ’ command element, for such a force - maybe that's Mr Hassani, the battalion commander despite his two pips, in the screen above; and maybe that represents me, the bloke in charge, I dunno). Apart from noting the visible dispositions of friendly (Iraqi, red/white/black flags) and enemy (Iranian, green/white/red flags) forces, I took no action in the ‘Unit Deployment’ map, seen below fully zooned out...

 

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...although I did briefly switch from there to the 3d deployment view, which is a recent addition to the re-released sim. Here it is. It seems quite popular and reminds me of Combat Mission; but I like my maps and after a quick look at the 3d option, I switched back.

 

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I quickly clicked through the deployment map to get to the ‘Initial Orders’ one, because it’s there that you get access to the icons which will get your platoons moving - specifically, the big block of icons on the bottom right in the screenshot below. Even without knowing for sure what they all do - and I'm still learning - they evidently give you quite a lot of control. My three T-62 tank platoons are the little groups of grey-ringed diamonds, bottom centre. The orange ones are the 'active' platoon, to which any orders I give will apply, and which I will command when I leave the map and enter the tanksim mode.

 

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I did a quick Combat Appreciation, from this map. I was tempted to go right-flanking, rolling up the marked enemy positions (Iranian flags) from right to left, one at a time. However, elbow room in that direction was very limited – I believe the usable size of SABOW maps is just 3 Km square. I could perhaps have attempted a smokescreen or an artillery or airstrike to cover a tight hook to the right but if I had such assets available for this operation, I still hadn’t mastered their use.

So in the end, I decided to keep it simple. Using the platoon orders icons for the first time, I ordered two tank platoons to attack the marked Iranian positions to our direct front – what the enemy was or how to find out short of attacking them, I had no idea. I see now that my force included a scout platoon that I could have used - doh! And they say 'Time spent on reconnaisance is never wasted'! The third platoon I could have kept back behind the other two T-62 platoons, in reserve, but instead, I decided that it would be better employed covering the open left flank of our main advance. So I gave them the order to move off diagonally to the left, towards the second marked enemy position. Their destination was some shrubbery half-way there, just short of an irrigation ditch, from where they could either engage the enemy over there, or assault them if I decided it was the right move. I should have called down a smokescreen, artillery support or an airstrike to cover my move or soften up the enemy but as I've said, even if any were available on this mission, I didn't know how and was impatient to crack on.

 

Ideally I’d have wanted to tell the left hand platoon to 'go firm' (defensive posture) and face north-west when they got to the point I had designated. But while orders exist for such things, I didn’t know how to combine them into a single order - as in ‘Go there – go firm when you get there – and face that way’. Instead, having got everybody moving, I decided I would take it from there, issuing further orders as I went. Bad idea. This would have been ok, if I had just one platoon to manage and provided the enemy didn’t interrupt proceedings. But I had three platoons to manage. And despite staying quiet and out of sight during my previous attempt, this time, the enemy were back doing what they do best, trying to make life difficult.

I kicked off the simulation phase and from the commander’s internal view, switched to external and had a look around. It was still rather dark but at least my three T-62s were moving, as ordered. But which three T-62s? Caught out by the novelty of the SABOW approach, I realised I hadn’t kept track of the platoon that was ‘active’ on the ‘Initial Orders’ map, at the point I switched to the simulation.

 

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I didn’t have time to ponder the matter. First priority was to drop into the gunner view, get a HEAT round up the spout (I have learned to prefer these to the accurate but finicky sabot as a ‘battle carry’ round) and have a quick scan through the gunsight, to get a good look at what I might be driving into. I may or may not have remembered to make sure that platoon orders included ‘Fire at will’ – I do wish that this and other common commands were hotkeys, too many involve clicking icons, which I find more fiddly. At this point, my own tank's driver decided to turn the lights on, fortunately briefly and even more fortunately, without drawing any fire.


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I was in the process of checking that my platoon had appropriate orders and was in suitable formation when it all kicked off. My first indication of this was a fire order, indicating an enemy tank. There may be a 'crew voices in English' option but I hadn't enabled it, so I was glad there's a text display for such messages, visible provided you have enabled the 'HUD' on-screen visual aid. 

 

Luckily, my platoon's current orders included 'Fire at will', which they did, so getting the morning's proceedings off to a reasonable start, despite my rather hasty and ill-organised planning.

 

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Quickly scanning for targets from the gunner's sight, I was glad of the night vision. The display looks like thermal imaging or perhaps - and accurately for that earlier period - it's active IR illumination. Passive image intensification would also have been available then - I have only used the latter, in real life (anyone else remember 'Starlight Scopes'?).

 

I saw no tanks and didn't understand what 'Right 2' meant - two o'clock, perhaps? Hardly two degress, let alone two mils! Traversing right anyway, I picked up the ghostly image of what looked like an M-113 Armoured Personnel Carrier, with some troops crouching around it. I did a quick double check in my mind – no, we would be using BTRs or BMPs, an M-113 must be Iranian, an enemy. They looked dangerously close!

 

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The T-62 having gun stabilisation – the SABOW M60A1 doesn’t have this, which I thought it did in real life -  I didn’t stop to fire but cut loose while still moving.  And missed, as in my haste I hadn’t allowed for the movement of my tank while engaging an enemy off to one side. A frustrating pause while the gun elevated and reloaded, locked in position, then I lined her up again and fired. Another fire order came, this time something about a rocket launcher! Traversing again as soon as the reloading sequence had finished, close to another M-113 I picked up a pair of figures in the night vision scope, one kneeling with a shoulder-fired weapon. I hosed them with the co-ax MG then blasted their APC.

 

post-66801-0-69270900-1428703744.jpg

 

Reloading. Traversing again. More ghostly figures. Hitting them again with the co-ax. Meanwhile my tank’s still rolling on. Sounds of tank cannon and MG fire from all around. I hope the others are doing ok in this sudden little patch of hell I have led us all into. As for the other two platoons, who knows? Are they engaged themselves? If not, should I summon them to my assistance? I’m conscious that I have been reduced to fighting for my own virtual life and have lost control of my own platoon, let alone the other two. I know I need to regain control but that will have to wait.

The firing suddenly dies down. I sweep my night sights over the arc ahead and either side. M-113s lie still or burning or both. A blazing crew member runs wildly from the rear of one enemy APC. Objects which I suspect are dead bodies lie strewn around.

 

post-66801-0-75540800-1428704046.jpg

 

Crikey! ‘Hectic’ wasn’t the word! We seemed to run into the enemy very quickly and I regretted even more not having carefully scoped out the area before we moved off and found out what indirect fire support might be available. Next time I’ll do all of that, and if it’s dark, see if we can put up any illumination, first. At least, this time I didn’t drive into a ditch! Breathing more freely, I switched back to the external view and had a look around.


post-66801-0-68749100-1428704158.jpg
 

Time to regain control, to re-organise and get a grip on my platoons, before renewing our advance. But what’s this? Suddenly, I’m out of the 3d world and staring at a results screen. It seems the SABOW wargame routine has decided the turn is over. A lot sooner than I expected, and in rather bland style.

 

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The screen tells me we've scored a 'draw', though the figures seem to tell a different story: we met a weaker force and hit it pretty hard, with few casualties in return. I don't think there were any tanks on the Iranian side - it looks like my tank commander mis-identified the M113 (or maybe the text, as displayed, lost something in the translation!).

At this point, classic tanksims like Panzer Commander and M1 Tank Platoon II announced the end of the mission with a simulated radio message from your immediate superior. In M1TP2 for example, you would hear something like ‘All stations this is Eagle 6, FRAGO [‘fragmentary order’]. Stand down and await further orders.Out.’ Instead, SABOW dropped me straight from being on a high from an intense little firefight, to a results screen. This rather brutally dispelled the immersion generated. Yuk. Hopefully a future patch will add an appropriate radio message.

Anyway, that was that. No option to play on for a bit, drive around, get into defensive positions against a possible counterattack or head back to refuel and replenish. All I could do was use the typical Graviteam ‘Statistics’ phase to move the camera around the battlefield and inspect the damage. Which in my surprise at the sudden end, I forgot to do.!

 

Meanwhile, the SABOW wargame engine rolled the battle forward another turn, with the results you can see below. It looks like operations in our TAOR are hotting up. I've still a lot to learn about SABOW - how to better plan my operations, and better command and control my units - but I'm beginning to see now how the campaign mode plays out. It actually looks rather clever and quite convincing.

 

post-66801-0-88075000-1428707771.jpg
 

Parting shots

If you have previously played the Graviteam Tactics series and wished you could also drop into one of the tanks in your force, SABOW is likely a dream come true. If you come like me as a tanksimmer, you might feel that the wargame element rather gets in the way. It’s an extra layer of stuff you need to learn and master. When you are tank-simming, the need to manage the rest of your force can be a distraction. And there's that turn-based, results-oriented wargaming regime. However, if you have the patience and the desire to get past this and make the extra effort needed to get to grips with all this, the reward is a wide-ranging but also deep, involving and possibly rather addictive simulation of (reasonably) modern all-arms warfare.

 

post-66801-0-66253600-1428706097.jpg

 

Some things could be better. Few tanksims make a decent job of simulating the operation of the unit’s radio net – Steel Beasts and Panzer Elite alone, do a good job, with oldies Panzer Commander, M1 Tank Platoon II and Armored Fist 2 & 3 at least making some effort. In WW2, with universal supply of transmitter-receivers only happening over time, Steel Fury can just about get away without it. But the tanksimming component of SABOW really needs to make some effort at simulating a company/platoon radio net. As a minimum, you should hear contact reports from other tanks and callsigns; sightings and reports of mishaps would be desirable, as would occasional traffic from HQ, perhaps mission-specific but including a ‘Battle over, go firm/stand down’ message at the end - and perhaps, a suitable exhortation at the start, to give at least the impression that you are part of a larger force, with the CO making his presence felt. As things stand you are left too reliant on dropping out of the 3-d world and calling up the map, to keep tabs on the situation.

 

Edit - SABOW, I've discovered, is rather good at generating contact reports and other radio traffic - it's just that you don't hear it or see it displayed, in the 3-d game world. The screenshot below shows top right a 'message log' displaying the traffic on the company net, on the in-mission tactical map. The message log doesn't list callsigns but in this view, you can actually see who's transmitting, as you get a little 'radio mast' icon superimposed on the station that's currently sending. This is really pretty exceptional. In the 3-d world, I think you may get an audio cue, like somebody hitting a pressel switch, that somebody's transmitting. But it would be rather better if you also saw their message displayed as text, if not also hearing it spoken, in the 3-d world, so you are less reliant on the map. The underlying functionality, via the map, is pretty impressive, nevertheless. In the pic below - this time I have changed the colours to 'NATO style' so your side is blue and the enemy, red - my two leading tank platoons, in the area between the terrain marked blue and red have hit contact and have the little 'radio mast/ icon superimposed, to show they're the ones transmitting. Quite impressive, the stuff that's built into this sim.

 

shot_2015_04_11_21_58_00_0011.jpg

 

Another EDIT - evidently there ARE radio messages, like contact reports, from other units on the same radio net, displayed as text messages in the 3-d world, which is great. Not sure why I haven't noticed them. It may be that in the mission above, which was set up with the Battle Editor, the units generating the messages displayed in the 'message log' on the map screen were not considered to share a radio net with my platoon. Or maybe they were on the same net and I had just completely turned off the HUD, so missing the text!

 

I’m fairly sure I have seen AI units deploy smoke - as seen below, possibly from a Chieftain - but this may not be implemented for the player’s tanks. The M60 model featured doesn’t have smoke dischargers but like many Soviet tanks, the real T-62 could generate a smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into its exhaust. As with Destroyer Command, an inability to lay smoke - a common concealment tactic, for tanks as well as destroyers -  is a significant gap. Yet another EDIT - from recent screenshots on the Graviteam SABOW forum, a new patch is coming which adds the ability to some tanks (M-60 and likely T-62, the playable tanks) to lay smoke screens by injecting diesel into their exhausts, a feature of many Soviet Cold War tanks later adopted by some Western ones.

 

 

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Hopefully, a patch will add player-generated smoke.

 

The infantry appear rather ill-trained at times. When in field defences, they tend to sit with heads or shoulders clearly visible above the parapet. Under fire, they will duck but will soon pop up again - at the same spot, which makes them a bit too easy to pop off.

Personally, I would like to see the Star Wars-like upper HUD element replaced with something more intuitive and conventional, like a turret position indicator/compass rose graphic. What's there now may be ok for a wargame but in a tanksim, even a modern one, it's not so good, to my eye. And as I’ve said a couple of times already, more tanksim commands available as hotkeys, as an alternative to clickable icons, would be convenient. Plus I like to keep my screen uncluttered, so I can admire the view.

 

shot_2015_04_11_10_44_34_0002.jpg

 

Another big step forward would be a few more playable vehicles, starting for convenience's sake with some of the AFVs already there like the Chieftain and the Olifant/Centurion; these would make good payware ‘DLC’, as would more maps/theatres, like the 1967 or 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars. A Steel Beasts-like mission editor would also be good, enabling users to generate and share missions and mini-campaigns. By scripting the friendlies as well as the enemies, we could be freed up from the wargame element, able to play as a single platoon commander, like a conventional tank sim. Perhaps victory conditions or other mission parameters could be specified which were not constrained by the turn-based regime of the present wargame campaigns. I’m not sure such a thing exists and if it did, SABOW doesn’t yet appear to have a facility to store and launch pre-made single missions. Serious modding efforts have been limited so far for whatever reasons, but might massively increase the content and appeal of SABOW, as they have done with many other sims.

 

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All that said, there’s an awful lot to like in SABOW, even if, like me, you come to it as a tank-simmer, initially disinterested with or even impatient of the wargame element. The relaunched version has improved documentation and new gameplay options which together, make it significantly easier to get straight to the tank-simming component. The tanks themselves are wonderful creations and look great inside, outside and in action, not least the animation of the crew and the T-62 throwing the empty cases out the back after each round. You only have two playable tanks (at present) but they’re modelled with an attention to detail not seen in a tank game, including sight reticles and functionality. And there’s a lot more 'under the hood' that I haven’t experienced yet, like indirect fire and close air support capabilities.

 

If you enjoy computer wargaming, here it is, with the benefit of a built-in tanksim. Definitely recommended, even for tanksimmers – I'm beginning to appreciate the wargaming element, which appears  thorough, well designed and engaging.

 

Any decent simulation needs a certain investment in time, patience and perseverance. Being more than a sim, SABOW may need a little more of all three, but I'm finding it well worth the effort.

 

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Excellent review!The tank Sim community really needed something like this.It would be better however,if they made the T-55 and the Chieftain Playable too.

Edited by Lazarus1177

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Thanks! BTW a new, April 2015 patch for the Gamersgate version is now available:

 

http://graviteam.com/forum/index.php?topic=10223.0

 

This adds a firing range ('Target practice') option - see the new icon on the right of the main menu:

 

shot_2015_04_11_15_22_48_0000.jpg

 

If you select this, you start with an M60A1 that is automatically driving up to the firing point on a range, with various hard targets laid out for you. The firing point is a flat-topped low mound, accessed via the side track leading off to the left in the pic below. As you approach, text messages give you some tips as to what to do.

 

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Initially your targets are static AFV hulks, mostly WARPAC stuff like T-55s and BTR-60s, as you can see...

 

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...but after a while, they are joined by some crossing targets, both MBTs and APCs...

 

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This is a neat addition to SABOW - reminds me of the gunnery training missions in M1 Tank Platoon II and Steel Beasts!

 

PS since playing the M60A1 more, now that it's the tank featured in the 'Target practice' mission, I'm beginning to see my SABOW tank commander in whole a new light...

 

shot_2015_04_11_20_44_37_0005.jpg

 

I've realised that Ctrl+mouse clicking on a target in my sight will cause the TC to take its range on the stereoscopic rangefinder and set that on my battle sight, so that all I have to do is get it in the crosshairs, allowing for lateral movement and wind. I must check and see if trunnion tilt is also replicated! And my AI TC is quite good as spotting fall of shot, when the considerable obscuration from firing lets him, giving me corrections left or right in target widths, as well as over or short. I haven't seen and heard such authentic crew drills since Steel Beasts!

 

Neat also that co-ax tracers realistically burn out at about 1100m.

 

More playable AFVs would be great but even the two we have now, done to the standard Graviteam have achieved, are well worth going to virtual war with; they're both capable of some serious tanking!

 

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shot_2015_04_11_21_51_24_0001.jpg

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You sure write some good articles with a lot of relevant details and some darn good action sequences. I find I cant stop reading until I get to the end, lol. I must say its nice to hear about some of the tank games out there, even if they are a bit older.

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 Excellent review 33Lima, have been following your mission reports for Steel Fury which never fail to impress. But tell me, being an avid SF STA & SBPro user I am tinkering with the idea of buying this, is it worth the £23 ?

Thanks for any reply.

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Hi 55Delta and thanks also for the positive feedback!

 

Is SABOW worth it? Well for me, it certainly was. Probably you too, certainly if you are interested in the wargame side.

 

If, like me, you come to SABOW looking mostly or only for a tanksim, the answer is still 'yes' I would say, provided:

 

1. you are not going to be greatly disappointed and let down that it doesn't surpass or equal SB Pro or even SF, in every respect - it's different, not better in all ways than either. Expect still to enjoy and/or rate SB highly for its peerless technical authenticity as a simulator of tank and platoon-to-company level combat in the modern era, and Steel Fury for its less sophisticated but wide, capable and immersive recreation of much the same thing, in WW2;

 

AND

 

2, you are keen (or at worst just prepared) either to:

 

(i) have the patience and perseverance to learn (and then either embrace or tolerate) the wargame side, which on campaign is really a near-unavoidable partner of the tanksimming component. Having finally made the effort and 'got over the hump' I'm beginning to see the value in the excellent wargaming side, which at the start I just saw as something that got in my way, en route to the tanksimming;

 

OR

 

(i) content yourself with just the tanksimming component, forgetting about campaigns and instead playing one of the three current 'instant action' missions and 'quick battles' you have created using the Battle Editor. The latter I would liken to the Il-2 '46 Quick Mission Builder, as modified by the QMB Pro mod (which expands the choices you can make). It's a lot more capable than the 'Quick mission' option in Strike Fighters sims, to offer another comparison. And easy to use: you can have a different battle going in a minute or three. Both 'instant action' and Battle Editor get you to the tanksimming, bypassing (fully and partially, respectively) the wargame element.

 

As a sort of chargeable full demo version, if you're from the UK as your choice of currency suggests, you might want to look in Game, a similar store or online for this BlackLime version, which was in some Game shops until at least recently:

 

http://www.hixxysoft.com/steel-armor-blaze-of-war-pc-game.html?gclid=CjwKEAjw0q2pBRC3jrb24JjE8VgSJAAyIzAd6sdwdfzHOswbgw0uKRIYzCINk_vaNobCxhy69hZOehoCu9vw_wcB

 

I think this version CANNOT have the latest patches applied, so while its min specs are a little lower, no Graviteam Tactics engine (with whatever that brings, see the graviteam forum or Facebook page) but possibly more importantly, no 'instant action' options.

 

If you fancy the wargame side, go for it but definitely the new version rather than saving a few quid for the sake of an older model. If not sure, my suggestion would be: re-read the review, watch all of SimDeck's youtube SABOW videos (the one I linked to, plus another set which illustrates a campaign, played by someone who seems not too impatient to get into a tank) and then decide.

 

Sorry about the long-winded reply but as a practicing tanksimmer you will have an interest in the detail combined with finely-developed tastes in these matters, already. And of course, a certain combination of flair and down-to-earth doggedness which these head-in-the-clouds, combat-flightsim-only boys surely lack :biggrin:

 

Good hunting!

 

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 I've had my eye on this since you announced it's regeneration, shall I, shan't I ? Bit the bullet & got it from Steam this morning, It's a strange beast, a cross between SF & SBPro with something else, not something you can jump straight into, The graphics are a dream. Prefer it to SBPro, this seems to have what SB lacks, but there are elements of SB this could do with Still, it's early days for me & still a lot to get my head around.

Thanks for the response, long-winded or not, it's appreciated. 

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 ...a cross between SF & SBPro with something else, not something you can jump straight into, The graphics are a dream.

 

I think that's as good a potted description of SABOW as we're ever going to get! :good:

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33Lima, Hi, Sitrep, after initial dialogue on day 1 I was impressed & at the same time intrigued with this animal. Day 2 however, I was ready to throw the towel in, my backside was getting kicked inside out. Day 3, discovered the Battle Editor, set up a scenario with a single platoon against six enemy tank platoons & a couple of apc's thrown in for good measure, but I set the enemy as Targets, this was the turning point for me. I could get to grips with all things Commander, get my head around ranging as Gun-Layer, work out how to traverse those damn ditches without getting stranded. I can now appreciate how good this is.

Nice pics in the gallery btw.

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I take back what I said earlier, about not liking the 'Star Wars'-like situational awareness tape that you can display along the top of the screen. Once you learn to interpret this, it's actually a very sensible device to compensate for the limitations of 'MonitorVision' and I am finding it less obtrusive than the tank graphic turret position indicators and other devices used by some other tank sims. For example in the pic below, the two light green ticks to the riight tell me that my two 'wingmen' are to my right rear (had they been ahead, the ticks would have been just above the tape, not below it), thus acting as the peripheral vision you lose from a monitor. As you can see the tape also provides a compass read-out; it can also display key point directions, target directions and other information.

 

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The SABOW on-screen aids (header tape and icon blocks) I'm finding not just well designed, packing a lot of features, but also amongst the least obtrusive.

 

Another welcome feature of SABOW is the level of detail with which the playable tanks' features are implemented. For example the T-62 has a fully-functional 'azimuth indicator' showing the relative position of the turret, just to the gunner's left:

 

shot_2015_04_17_08_04_46_0006.jpg

 

As for the SABOW campaign system, while you do need at least to dabble with the wargame element to make the best of it - and for many, the wargame side will be a welcome feature in itself - it may actually be the best single player campaign system featured in any tanksim. You don't get mega-detailed briefings or a great sense of identity - in part because on campaign, you play both the role of the 'company group' commander and in action, play any platoon or tank commander (in a playable tank). But what you do get, are missions generated for you which flow from and fit into the wider battle, as the latter develops.

 

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And the campaign has dynamic elements, like losses, re-inforcements, damage, supply, morale and territorial gains or losses, which carry forward from mission to mission.

 

shot_2015_04_15_22_39_08_0001.jpg

 

There's nothing wrong with a campaign composed of scripted missions, especially if they follow an historical campaign, like those in Panzer Elite or Steel Fury. But now that I'm learning how the wargame side works in SABOW, I'm finding it less of an impediment to the tanksimming side, but rather an additional feature which adds a new layer of immersion and is also a sound basis for a campaign which makes you feel like you are really participating in a linked series of actions in a battle which is developing over the hours and days.  SABOW is quite a remarkable package.

 

Now, if only we had a playable Chieftain...!

 

shot_2015_04_17_08_13_20_0002.jpg

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Speaking of Chieftains, my Susangerd campaign just went down the toilet, in somewhat confusing circumstances. And this was the way of it...

 

It was Turn 4 in the campaign. Turns may well generate some fighting, but not always in your sector of the battlefield, reasonably enough. Turn 3 had generated a lot of fighting and a mission for me - the flanking attack described above, which had resulted in a draw officially, although we seemed to have had the better of the encounter. 

 

For Turn 4, the briefing told me that the 6th Armoured Division - friendly forces, being one of the Iraqi formations participating in this battle - was advancing from the east and the south. That was all. It looked like we were turning from the defensive and local counterattacks, onto the offensive. My own company-sized command - based around First Company, 10th Detached ('Independent' might be a better translation) Armored Brigade, was part of (or represented) the other participating Iraqi formation; that is, the aforementioned Brigade.

 

shot_2015_04_15_22_38_22_0000.jpg

 

But what was my role to be, in this stage of the battle? The briefing panel said nothing. After a little while though, things changed. As I was clicking on our units to bring up their details, a little 'battle flame' symbol sprang up right amongst the three platoons of T-62s that were my own command, bottom right if the map. This was obviously connected with a red enemy arrow, now showing an attack coming right at us! Time to jump to the boots of one of my platoon commanders and do some fighting!

 

shot_2015_04_17_20_04_34_0000.jpg

 

I neglected to take a screenshot of this but when you move from the 'operational' or wargame more to the tactical or simulation mode, you are first given a chance to fine tune the placement of your platoons (in the 'Unit Deployment' map screen, which has a 3d alternative, both seen earlier in this thread); you can then give them orders (in the 'Initial Orders' screen, also seen earlier). I saw that my platoons were marked as being in defensive positions facing roughly west so I left that as it was. I just checked that their default orders were as I wanted them (including 'fire at will' set) and allocated them overlapping arcs of fire; in retrospect these were a little too oriented towards the open ground to our west but they at least covered also the main threat zone, to our north-west.

 

This done, I jumped into the tank of the commander of my first platoon and had a good look around. The rain was coming down in sheets and visibility was not great, but it was quiet. The good news was that our tanks were well dug in and facing roughtly west, well enough able to engage any enemies coming from either that direction or from the north-west.

 

shot_2015_04_17_20_26_13_0001.jpg

 

One of my tanks was sitting out in the open - if I had used the 3-d deployment facility earlier, I would have been able easily to see and correct that - but the quiet start enabled me to do that now. There are probably different ways of doing this but I jumped into the tank and moved it myself, after a false start when I forgot to tell the other tanks in the platoon not to move with me. The ground was very open but I moved him behind us to a 'depth' position, into a slight fold in the ground. That would have to do.

 

I waited, and nothing happened. Now this was the second time I had played this turn and the previous time, no enemy had showed up. It seems that 'battle flame' can burn out before it gets started, that the anticipated contact doesn't materialise; or that the enemy attack takes longer to develop, or maybe gets bogged down (as happened a lot, to the Iranians, in this particular battle in real life).

 

This time, realising I was acting without orders and taking a big risk, I decided to go looking for trouble. I consulted my map and decided that I would make an attack of my own. I had no attached light units to throw out ahead as a recce screen and as far as I could tell, no artillery or mortars for indirect fire support. The dismal weather ruled out air support. But foolishly, off I went.

 

Looking at the map I decided to make a left hook. Phase 1 - we would advance to the south-west, up to an irrigation channel that crossed our front. This had a ford in the middle. I would cross this tactically, one platoon at a time while the other two covered. Once firm on the other side, we would move onto Phase 2. I would make an advance to contact to the north and destroy the enemies marked on the map as being in the area of a crossroads, near a ford or bridge over another irrigation ditch.

 

A few clicks converted this into attack orders for the first phase. I would move with first platoon in the centre, with a platoon either side. For reference, I believe the big squares on the map below are 1Km across, which would make the smaller ones 250m x 250m. Casualties or damage from pervious turns left me with seven T-62s stepping off for the first move. Although commanding in effect a (slightly understrength) tank company, I did not have the normal company HQ element, which is generally two tanks in Western armies, and one on Soviet or Warsaw Pact style tank companies. So there was just the seven of us. The ground to our front was clear for a good distance but there was a fair bit of cover on our right. If trouble developed, that was likely were it would come from. And so it came to pass.

 

shot_2015_04_17_21_39_28_0000.jpg

 

...to be continued!

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Off we trundled, our T-62s roughly in line abreast, which is probably SABOW's default formation for units given 'Attack' orders. Although I could have given 'move' orders for the first phase, I have found troops act less cautiously with these (for example, turning on lights, if it's dark) so even though were were just moving up to our jump-off point for the real attack, those are the orders I used. And it seemed to be working out, as we trundled across the flat open terrain.

 

shot_2015_04_17_21_40_04_0002.jpg

 

I usually turn off HUD-type displays as far as possible, convenient though they are, but as I'm new to SABOW I need all the help I can get...besides, the SABOW on-screen aids I'm finding relatively unobtrusive, as well as useful. I am quite glad that Graviteam's re-release has killed off the unit markers option previously available, which displayed a marker above every unit. This looked really awful in the 3-d world, like everybody was running around with huge samurai banners strapped to their backs.

 

anyway, the open ground to our front was...well, open, very open, up to the line of vegetation wich marked the irrigation channel whose crossing was our Phase 1 objective.

 

shot_2015_04_17_21_39_44_0001.jpg

 

My right flank was the one I was worried about, as there lay enemy territory and, as we advanced, dangerous tree cover which could conceal any number of nasty things. I should perhaps have left my right-hand platoon behind, to cover our move across the open ground; but I reckoned they needed to be up with us, to have any real chance of supporting the move. Looking over at them, however, I did decide that they really needed to be in right echelon formation, which would give them better arcs of view and fire to that flank.

 

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A few mouse-clicks on icons gave them the order to change formation. This seemed to produce a certain amount of disorganisation, initially. The platoon's lead tank stopped, while the other two began to manoeuvre. At that point, with perfect timing, the enemy intervened, from exactly where I was expecting them - from the cover on my right flank. A firefight broke out, with my righ-hand platoon exchanging shots with an unseen enemy. By this time I was back manning the command tank of my lead, centre platoon and instead of jumping back to the engaged unit - I like to stick as far as possible with a single platoon leader role - I jumped to the gunsight and started scanning to the right. My AI tank commander gave me a target indication for an enemy tank - they use hundreds of mils, not the clock code, but the turret position indicator icon gives you a good read-out on this scale - and I soon spotted the source of the trouble.

 

It was an Iranian Chieftain tank, rumbling from left to right amongst some trees, maybe 750 metres away. I had a sabot round 'up the spout' and let him have that. I got a hit and fired another, aiming lower, but he rolled on a little way, taking him out of sight behind some vegetation. When the reloading cycle ended - the T-62 has a rather low rate of fire and reloading locks out elevation and traverse, so I was pretty impatient - I traversed slightly right, laying my gun onto the point he would come out, on the other side. But he didn't appear. I waited in case he was making a short halt, then moved off ahead, to bring him back into view. At this point I saw him and fired again. Tracers flew as other T-62's did likewise. As my gun elavated for the reload, I saw that he was burning!

 

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Unfortunately, if not suprisingly, we had paid a price. To my left, a T-62 had been hit, with the crew bailed out and gone to ground around their crippled tank, To my right, a T-62 was on fire - one of my own platoon! However, with my own assistance, my right-hand platoon had done just what I put it there to do - cover that flank while we ran in to the first objective.

 

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I scanned for a while, thinking it most unlikely that the Chieftain had been on his own. But the shooting had stopped and there was not the slightest sign of any more enemy activity. So on we went, the burning T-62 jarring my nerves every so often as a lond bang, which could have been another firefight starting, turned out to be the blazing tank's ammo cooking off.

 

Moving ahead again, we steadily closed the range to the Phase 1 objective, the gully to our front. At this point, all hell broke loose. The right-hand platoon, back in formation, had got a little too far ahead and hit contact just as it came out of the far side of the line of trees beside the gully. Over there, the trees formed a small strip of denser woodland and I could see nothing of what was going on. I'm still at the stage in SABOW where I haven't yet mastered the art of using to best effect the tools available, to keep track of what's going on. But I knew enough to realise that my right flank was in contact and that I needed to deal with that, preferably by supporting them, sooner the better.

 

I swung right and nosed cautiously through the treeline between me and the irrigation channel, scanning for targets as I came out the other side. The crack of cannon fire still filled the air, punctuated with short bursts of MG fire. All I was able to see as I nudged ahead was a burning T-62. This wasn't looking good!

 

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...to be continued!

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At this point I called up the tactical map, which identified the enemy as a couple of tanks in the vicinity of the crossroads, which was our Phase 2 objective. In retrospect, my flanking move should have gone wider. I had wanted to attack the crossroads from the south, with at least two platoons in line ('two up' company formation). Instead, my more shallow swing had brought my right-hand platoon into early, unsupported contact with the enemy at the objective. The SABOW maps aren't huge and you do need to maintain a sense of scale and distance, to make the best use of the elbow room available, in planning such moves. To be fair to my original plan, my right-hand platoon had been ordered to move south west on my flank, to the right of the ford I'd intended to use; but it had in fact for some reason drifted well nort..and run into the enemy. My failing might therefore have been a lack of control, in not detecting and correcting this drift to the right.

 

Faced with this unwelcome development, I made a quick Combat Appreciation:

 

Aim - to destroy the enemy tanks to the north west

 

Enemy - so far, just those two tanks, seemingly fully occupied with my right-hand platoon.

 

Ground - LEFT, very open, plus movement's blocked by the irrigation channel across my front; CENTRE, a ford allows restricted movement ahead, but ground also very open and fully exposed to the fire of those two Iranian tanks; RIGHT, good cover from those trees, thickening into a small wood, though movement beyond that is limited by the other channel to our north.

 

Plan - With my platoon, I would back up through the trees, swing slightly left and move up northwards, keeping the treeline between me and the enemy. Then I would turn right and face them. Even if I could not flank the bad guys to the north, I would at least concentrate fires by adding my own platoon's fire to that of the engaged one.

 

So that's what I did. At one point as we moved, I got a target indication for some troops (who might have been 'unhorsed' enemy tankies) but saw nothing. However, the report of ground troops made me advance along the treeline more cautiously, scanning for any infantry ambush. suddenly nearing the point level with the rear of my engaged platoon, I came under fire! Single tracers, from some sort of large-calibre weapon it seemed, zipped out of the treeline to my half left and crashed into my tank, generating angry and venomous comments from crew members and causing a strange sound which seemed to confirm something was going wrong with my tank. Unable to see anything worthy of even speculative return fire, I speeded up, hoping that the trees would break the enemy line of sight, just as they were limiting my own. That seemed to work, for I stopped taking hits, from whatever it was. Now what? I didn't have long to wait.

 

As I pondered my next move and before I could get a damage report from my crew with the appropriate icon click, a Chieftain rattled out of the trees, just ahead and slightly left! His gun was tracking my platoon-mate, who had drifted over to my right. I fired at once, then froze as the Chieftain halted and his gun came around in my direction, while my own was locked in the reloading sequence. Time seemed to stand still.

 

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Before he could get off a round, my platoon-mate whacked one him; at this range, it would have been hard to miss. I moved off again while my reloaded completed, then stopped and fired again. To my very great relief, the Chieftain's crew started to bail out! By this point, it had lost both tracks and was obviously an 'M' (mobility) kill, at the very least.

 

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I recovered from my moment of mixed elation and relief and settled down to hosing the enemy crew with my co-axial MG.

 

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As I did so, the Chieftain's turret started to swing again. Somebody in the turret still in the fight? I didn't wait to find out but sent another sabot round into him. That did the trick. The Chieftain was finally well and truly out of it, with the last crew members bailing out. It didn't burn - wet stowage for those 120mm bagged charges probably helps - but its inert hulk lay there before us, motionless.

 

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Both the Chieftain's tracks had been severed and on the near side, the 'bazooka plates' had been torn off. Job done!

 

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I rolled on and halted nearby. Firing had stopped, and there was no sign of the other enemy tank. Perhaps my right-hand platoon had got him? If so ,they had paid a high price - all three T-62s had been knocked out, confirmed by a glance at the tactical map.

 

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It was only at this stage that I realised my tank cvommander had been badly injured, evidently when my tank first came under fire seconds before. Switching to his view for a scan through his periscopic sight, this is what I saw instead:

 

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Ignoring one of the enemy crew crawling away to the north, I decided that my heavy losses - five tanks out of seven clobbered, and my current tank's own commander hurt - made it pointless to continue with my little, unsupported ad hoc offensive. After a last look around,  I turned my tank about and headed back whence I had come. No point in trying to hold the ground we'd gained with just two tanks, without infantry support. I laid my gun over my rear deck in the approved fashion for a withdrawing tank and rattled off back to the east.

 

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Below is the tactical map at the close of the fighting. Just below the green-white-red Iranian flag at the crossroads, lined up between the irrigation channel and the woods, are the three grey diamonds indicating my knocked-out right hand platoon. Just above the middle block of icons is the left-flank T-62 knocked out early on, with its bailed out crew (yellow pips). It was only at this point I noticed I had somehow left a tank behind, in our original defensive positions, visible just left of the Iraqi flag, centre right. Top right of the map, you can see the event log, which includes a report of prisoners being taken. Of that I saw nothing, perhaps because the victors didn't live to tell the story.

 

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Back I went, with the other surviving T-62, past the still-burning wreck of our first casualty. I neglected to order the bailed-out crew also to return; hopefully they used their initiative! Nor did I explore the possibility of using SABOW's repair facilities, to recover any of my casualties. And all the while, the rain fell in sheets.

 

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At this point I called it quits, without using the SABOW 'statistics' phase to review the battlefield in 3-D. I knew enough to know that my unauthorised foray had turned out to be every bit the bad idea I probably knew it likely would, at the outset. I could only hope that SABOW's reinforcements facility would enable me to recover some of our lost strength, before the next operation. The strike marks on the front of my own tank showed how narrowly we had escaped, ourselves.

 

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I've still a lot to learn with SABOW but I'm getting there, largely thanks to the impetus and improvements afforded by the new release. Next time, I will try to apply a few of the lessons I've learned on this mission, like thinking not twice but three times at least, before venturing out of a good defensive position. And coming from more conventional tanksims, where all you need to manage is your own platoon, it's easy to forget that even after the mission begins, you have - and sometimes do need to exercise - control over what your other platoons are doing, too!

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33Lima, Hi, Sitrep, after initial dialogue on day 1 I was impressed & at the same time intrigued with this animal. Day 2 however, I was ready to throw the towel in, my backside was getting kicked inside out. Day 3, discovered the Battle Editor, set up a scenario with a single platoon against six enemy tank platoons & a couple of apc's thrown in for good measure, but I set the enemy as Targets, this was the turning point for me. I could get to grips with all things Commander, get my head around ranging as Gun-Layer, work out how to traverse those damn ditches without getting stranded. I can now appreciate how good this is.

Nice pics in the gallery btw.

 

33 Lima, roger. That pretty closely follows my route into SABOW. The Battle Editor with the enemy set to be targets is a great start, as now is the M-60 firing range option. Going straight into campaigns or the 'two-way range' in the Battle Editor until you have learned a certain amount about both the handling of your chosen tank and the use of the SABOW interface, is indeed a recipe for getting zapped, probably more so than your average tanksim. Reminds me of starting with M1 Tank Platoon II; even though both tank and interface are simpler than SABOW, there was still a fair bit to master, including managing other platoons (even if that only consisted of keeping them hidden or moving, to avoid near instant deluges of deadly Soviet artillery!)

 

As far as pics are concerned, the last mission, reported on above, doesn't really do SABOW's visuals justice, thanks mostly to the dire weather, but while I haven't tried Afghan yet, Angola is very lush and gorgeous and likely shows SABOW at its best.

 

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Out!

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Another impressive report Lima, I sympathise, I thought I was the only one who forgets to tell his platoon to halt while I make a position change ! I had an experience yesterday whereupon a 2nd platoon refused to move to position, I still don't know why, probably something else I obviously overlooked, but I've come to realise this sim requires meticulous planning before entering on operations, the slightest oversight will bite you back hard. I agree with you on the 'Hud layout & Interface', & like yourself, I prefer to play (Oooh, that's not right, we don't PLAY sims) with minimal HUD, but I can't see how to improve on this as it is. Bash on, stick one up the chamber & give em one from me !

 Delta out.

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I think I prefer the SABOW weather in Angola, nothing like getting paid to do a spot of sunbathing for doing your 'International duty', while you wait for UNITA and their South African allies to turn up...

 

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In SABOW's Iran, in sad contrast, it seems to rain a lot. Still, you can often rely on somebody starting a nice fire to help warm you up...

 

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Of course, one kind turn deserves another...

 

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The latest patch has definitely added exhaust smoke emitters to T-62 and M-60, plus there is now another training mission, accessible from a fourth icon on the main menu. The previous addition was a firing range for the M-60; now, we also have a free driving lesson, in the T-62. To adapt what the Romans reportedly said about Egypt, 'From Graviteam, always something new.' It's good to see SABOW getting all this attention from the devs and in return I hope it gets the attention it deserves from the market. Now that I've got the hang if it, I'm finding SABOW rather excellent, a tanksimmer's tanksim and a wargamer's wargame...if that makes any sense at all.

 

Doing this to SABOW's great Chieftains, though, it doesn't come easy...

 

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Great AAR 33LIMA, just one point though for those wishing to try this sim, I have the Black Lime version which is just a budget re-release of the original DVD version of SABOW and it can be updated to the latest version through Graviteam's update site. The updates are behind Steam & GG versions by a month or two, but they are available.

Edited by adrians

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