Classic Reviews: The Proud and the Few (HPS Sims)

On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue

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The Splash Screen

Michael Eckenfels, 18 October 2018

• Developed by John Tiller
• Published byHPS Simulations

I haven’t seen a decent Marine Corps simulation since SSG’s ancient Halls of Montezuma, which was, at heart, a lot less tactical than The Proud and the Few . And, while you won’t be storming the gates of Mexico City or fighting off Communists at Inchon, you will be treated to an excellent range of tense, bloody battles that are the trademark of the Pacific Campaign of World War II.

Introduction

The Proud and the Few recreates most of the United States Marine Corps’ battles of the Pacific War, from 1943 to 1945. Players may choose to take control of the battle-hardened Leathernecks and participate in many possible scenarios ranging from light raids to all-out island assaults. Alternatively, they may choose service in the Emperor’s Imperial forces and exact as heavy a price as possible from the Marines. While there are several scenarios to choose from (40 in all), there is no campaign mode of play to link any of the scenarios together; more are promised from several sources (see below under “Replay Value”).

Based on John Tiller’s already popular Squad Battles: Vietnam, The Proud and the Few  differs little from the previous titles, except for the weapons and a few other period-specific features. The system does a good job of re-creating, at the squad level, the tension of the tough, onerous battles that marked the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific Theatre.

 

Presentation

The Proud and the Few runs like it should: a serious simulation of the Marine Corps’ most deadly battles in the Pacific. The graphics, while somewhat cartoonish (more on this under ‘Graphics & Sound,’ below), are functional and not completely distracting from the intent of the game: The game still manages to give the player an intense view of island fighting, and the heavy price paid for the gaining of ground measured daily by yards instead of miles.

Most serious wargamers who enjoy the World War II genre will be interested in this title; moreover, anyone interested in tactical squad-level combat will enjoy this as well. Those already familiar with previous Squad Battles games will find a comfortable and familiar interface, as well as an honest homage to the Marines and their brutally tough Japanese opponents. Those interested in military history will very much like the opening credits, which plays original-combat footage from the Pacific theater backed by the stirring US Marine Corps song, “The Halls of Montezuma”.

 

victory

Victory…but not for the Marines.

 

Violence is left to the player’s imagination. When struck, a unit will have a small explosion appear over its counter; inside the explosion will be a number, signifying the number of casualties a unit takes. There are no wounded in this game; if casualties are taken by a unit, that unit is reduced by that many men immediately. Sometimes, this means weapons go unmanned or will be discarded. Weapons that require more than one man to use (such as a heavy machinegun) will become less effective.

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This Japanese squad stands amid the ruined remnants of a Marine squad.

 

Plot

Scenarios run from short half-hour firefights to six or more hour slugfests – this range of options works well for any World War II Marine commander wannabes with varying schedules. Each scenario is lavishly described, from a gaming standpoint and from a historical standpoint, giving the player the information they need to succeed. All scenarios are based on actual historical events, with the appropriate units and leaders historically portrayed. Each scenario runs without any bugs, mishaps or lag time.

Victory is measured in terms of ‘victory points,’ a concept lost on few (if any) players. Locations on the map are worth a certain number of points; the more important the locations to the scenario (such as the top of Mount Surabachi, or General Vandergrift’s headquarters), the more victory points are gained from controlling it. Points are also awarded for creating enemy casualties, with more points awarded for knocking out tanks and killing leaders than taking out line grunts. At the end of the scenario, all these factors are tallied up and reported in the final Victory Screen.

Since there is no linked campaign play, the results of one scenario have no influence on another scenario. An inclusion of such a system would have added some replay value to the game, although the sheer number of scenarios and different ways to approach each one will likely keep any player busy for a long time.

 

Installation & Technical Issues

Installation was simple;  the game CD supports autorun. If this doesn’t work, it’s a simple matter of clicking “My Computer,” the CD drive, and the “Install” icon – all of this is described on the inside cover of the CD case. It installed very quickly and a pop-up window appeared to offer to instruct me on the basics of the game.

The game requires a measly 250 MB of hard drive space to install, with an equally small 32 MB of RAM on a 133 MHz Pentium system. My system is a Pentium III 500 MHz, and I had no problems playing The Proud and the Few, with everything running smoothly. Customer support from HPS Simulations was never needed as a result.

Documentation

Documentation is lacking in the physical manual sense, but the CD has a full manual on it and is accessible using the “Help” file as well from the game. However, some of the documentation refers to the Squad Battles: Vietnam game, which is distracting. It is relatively easy to gloss over the “Helicopter” rules and pictures of the M60 machinegun as well as other non-World War II items, although some players may not want to do so. I would have much preferred documentation that is geared to the product itself and not to the previous games in the series. Even if this product is much the same as their Squad Battles: Vietnam title, if I purchase this product, I want something specific to this genre, and only explanations pertaining to the Pacific during World War II. I don’t want to spend time wading through descriptions of helicopter gunships.

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Hmm…if only the Marines on Iwo had a few Cobras and Huey gunships!

 

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Otherwise, the rules are very comprehensive, giving you a ton of material on everything imaginable.

Navigation through the documentation is simple and is conducted much as it is in a normal “Help” file in Windows. Simply click on a topic of interest initially, and this will produce a drop-down list of more specific items. Double-click on the item you want and you’re taken to the screen. The manual is also full of hyperlinks, which will ‘jump’ you to a explanation if something you come across is not clear by clicking on the term. The formulas involved in the various in-game calculations are included as well, which helps the reader to understand a little of the design philosophy behind the game.

While this online manual works from an organizational and economic standpoint, I am nonetheless a big fan of written documentation…in a nice, neat binder, sporting a detailed index at the end. This is sorely missed, and it takes some getting used to clicking “Help” and muddling about to find the topic you want to know about.

To the game’s credit, the Help files also contain extensive histories of the Pacific War, giving the player as much background as they care to digest. Everything from the Japanese motivation to starting a war, to the weaponry of the Marine Corps is included for perusal.

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You want it? You got it…a ton of reference materials at your fingertips.

 

Graphics & Sound

The game’s graphics follow the same format as the previous Squad Battles titles, with a 2D top-down view of the map with only two levels of zoom. Counters representing units are simple portraits of men that represent leaders and squads, with vehicles and boats portrayed on larger counters. It is possible to display the units with standard NATO symbols, which helps better to give you an overall feel of the front line’s composition, but no other information can be garnered from an immediate glance of these counters, save a few simple status markers. Things like strength, morale, and weaponry can only be examined from clicking on the unit you wish to look at. This is effective in that it lessens map clutter, making for a much more eye-catching display, but also means you have to examine each stack, and remember what you saw, to get the “big picture” of your troops.

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Choose from a variety of battles, with a variety of difficulties.

 

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Soon, you’ll be hitting the beach…or will be in any of a number of other hairy situations.

The portraits come across as being a bit cartoonish, even though it seems that they were done to bring a more “human” feel to the game; the player is apparently meant to think of their units as living, breathing men and not simple counters. Other than this very minor complaint, the maps are done well, with terrain looking colorful if simple, but the functional and good wargame is rarely known for its eye candy appeal. The Proud and the Few’s graphics work well enough for the local terrain; jungles, villages, caves, hills, mountains, and airfields to be easily identified and each will see their fair share of combat.

The sound is excellent in some regards, and merely adequate in others. The tutorial scenario, for which a walkthrough exists to describe much of the game’s functions, is a good start. In this scenario, players’ squads are participating in the Makin Atoll raid as part of the Marine Raiders. The Marines start out in the surf on rubber boats, and the sounds of the sea lapping against their sides is very good. As the boats move, you can hear frantic paddling; once ashore and unloaded, the marines disembark accompanied by the distinctive ‘lock and load’ sound. So far, the sound has been a treat.

It doesn’t much improve after that, however, Gunfire is adequately portrayed, and mortars sound like mortars, M1 Rifles sound like M1 Rifles…you get the idea. The uninitiated player may not be aware of these sounds, and a help file giving a description of these weapons and the sounds they make in the game would have been welcome. With Fog of War on, it would help a newcomer to wargaming to understand the difference in sounds between a Japanese heavy machine gun and a light machine gun since no details on the enemy’s units is provided. Knowing the sounds of the enemy guns would help tremendously in figuring out what the enemy is equipped with., as it likely would in real life.

The best sound in the game by far occurs when a Japanese leader starts a ‘Banzai’ charge.

The shouts of Japanese soldiers is startling at first, and plain scary thereafter. When a Japanese stack of units commit to a Banzai charge, their assault strength (a measure of their hand-to-hand capabilities) is added together and doubled. The Japanese leader carries what the game terms as a “motivator:” no, it’s not ‘when there’s a whip there’s a way;’ it’s a samurai sword. These weapons help Japanese leaders rally their soldiers together for the Banzai charge. The AI is also very smart when using them, as it rarely assaults heavy concentrations of Marines; it usually aims for the smaller, weaker or isolated units, and usually wipes the floor with the poor Leathernecks.

Voice-overs would have perhaps added a great deal of depth to the game, such as a commander calling for air support and/or an appropriate reply from headquarters. Or, some other dialogue, such as units crying out for help or shouting in triumph when a location is taken.

 

Interface

Everything in the game is mouse-driven; all information can be garnered from the plethora of menu commands and hot buttons along the top of the screen. It is somewhat difficult to master their use at first, as it can be overwhelming trying to remember what button does what and in which situation. This curve is easily learned, however, and each button and menu item is logically presented and easily accessed.

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An overview of your strength is only two clicks away.

 

The map is viewable in two different zoom levels, and there is an overview map covering the entire battlefield. Most of the player’s commands will be issued from the closest zoom level, with only occasional breaks to look over the whole situation.

Units clicked on in the 2D view map will appear at the bottom of the screen, along with all of the associated weaponry that they can bring to bear. If the stack is particularly large, the units will overflow to the right, and an arrow will appear along with the number of units still left to view; clicking on this arrow will scroll this mini-screen so all information about units in the hex can be viewed. Units can pick up and discard weapons as they wish, although some weaponry used by the “other side” apparently cannot be used.

 

Gameplay and Game Mechanics

Each scenario is played in alternating turns, with one side moving and firing, then the other moving and firing. Once both sides move and fire, one turn ends. Usually one side tries to capture terrain while the other tries to hold it, although occasionally victory calls for stopping the other player from exiting the screen. In the meantime, inflicting massive casualties is the order of the day. The game does a good job of this, making things as hot for the player’s computer-generated Marines as the real ones no doubt had in the same situations.

Moving units on the map is as simple as clicking on the unit you wish to move, then right clicking on hexagons individually. Or, you can select the unit and then left click and hold to drag the unit to where you wish it to go; if there isn’t enough Movement Points in the unit, it won’t go all the way there, although it will continue in subsequent turns to do so until it either reaches the location or runs into the enemy.

quite frankly, why would you not want to fire everything you can

Firing is just as simple and can be done by selecting the units to fire, pressing and holding the CTRL button (which changes the cursor to a circular crosshair), and placing it over the unit you want to eradicate. Right clicking starts the fireworks. Some weapons may not reach the enemy you wish to shoot at and others may be more effective on certain defensive terrain (flamethrowers are the best, in my opinion). Players can also select which weapons they wish to fire, although double-clicking on a friendly unit will select all men and weapons that are able to fire in that hex, and quite frankly, why would you not want to fire everything you can?

Fighting comes down to who has the most units and who will break first. Morale is represented loosely in a grading system very similar to school (where A is the best, moving down to ‘F’, and finally, ‘no morale’ at the worst). Units’ morale suffers when casualties are taken, or when lots of bullets try to occupy the same space the soldiers are, pinning them. You can spend most, if not all, of a scenario as a Marine commander pounding any given Japanese position, without clearing them out. The use of special weapons comes into play here, much in the same way as it did historically; often it required a flamethrower team or a few well-placed satchel charges to send diehard Japanese defenders to their great reward. A ‘Zippo’ flame-throwing tank is also a welcome sight as a reinforcement at times.

When morale fails, units will become demoralized and can only move away from enemy units. Also, units can become “pinned” as a result of heavy enemy fire. This has an effect on morale as well as firing accuracy. Only leaders can remove these statuses from units, using the “Rally” command, making it important to keep these guys alive.

A very detailed menu interface along the top of the screen will allow you to do everything from pick up equipment to call for artillery or air support. Also, unit information is available quickly and easily. This allows players to not only examine a force tree structure to get a good idea of assigned forces, but also units that are going to withdraw before scenario end, and upcoming reinforcements. This all helps in planning, as overextending yourself is terribly easy to do. Forethought and planning are required skills if one is to master this game.

Besides walking, units can ride on tanks if they wish, although this makes them particularly vulnerable to enemy fire. Those same tanks are by no means invulnerable; not only do they have to contend with hidden mines, but often they can be taken out by concentrated fire.

While walking, units need to watch their steps. Hidden mines will make a mess of soldiers, not to mention hidden Japanese, who always seem to pop up at the wrong place at the wrong time. The help of the K-9 Corps is included in some scenarios to help  “sniff out” the Japanese troops, which is a welcome help. Too often a Marine patrol can pass a Japanese strongpoint, only to have it open up on them from behind in conjunction with other troops.

 

AI

The computer’s AI is good, especially when it is playing as the Japanese. It effectively combines units and firepower to pin Marines while gathering others together for a Banzai charge that will leave the poor Leathernecks in pieces. It is very difficult to dislodge a Japanese computer opponent from a dug-in or fortified position, such as a victory location building, cave, or trench. Usually, players will have to do what the real Marines did…close to point-blank range, keep the enemy’s heads down with the proliferate use of small arms fire, and bring up an assault team to let the defenders have it with a flamethrower and/or satchel charge.

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Bloody Mount Surabachi – so close, yet so far.

 

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The Japanese AI made a mess of my Marine patrol.

The AI will sometimes concentrate on your units that are strongest. In one scenario, five Stuart light tanks are assigned, supporting an attack on Japanese positions. The AI decimated my tanks within a few turns, making me rethink my tactics. In yet another scenario, I brought in a PT boat to support the withdrawal of a decimated patrol, and within two turns it was promptly and thoroughly sunk by deadeye Japanese on the coast. Ouch.

 

Editors, Expansion, and Replay Value

In the future, to add to the list of scenarios to this game, look for additional scenarios from the World at Wargamer site (currently there is only a version 1.01 update, which removes some minor bugs like trip flares not hanging in the air, and adding more vulnerability to truck units).

Also, the Military Gamer Online site, once up and running (there is no solid date at present as to when it will be, but keep checking), will present game hints, historical backgrounds and extra scenarios.

 

Multi-player Gaming

Direct play supported by TCP/IP and IPX is included with this game. The manual warns that using an IPX protocol may cause “problems,” although it doesn’t specifically state what kind. If any are encountered, it recommends using a LAN connection using a TCP/IP protocol insteadI did not test this option.

Play-By-Email is also present, and a simple matter of copying the appropriate “.bte” file to the appropriate game folder, either in the default folder provided when this option is launched or in one chosen by the player. I did not test this option, either.

 

Summary

It is difficult, in the end, to get over the similarities of this game to the hexagon-and-counter boardgames of decades past. Not that this reviewer is unappreciative of these types of games; on the contrary. Rather, it is a simple matter of mass appeal, and not every wargamer appreciates this kind of format. It will, however, greatly appeal to those of us raised in the pre-PC era of gaming.

The AI is by far the strongest point of this game, making certain that any human player will have their hands full from the get-go. This can however, be frustrating for beginner players or newcomers to the series, as it does take time root out Japanese defenders or break the backs of the Marines. Those looking for instant gratification in their combat will be disappointed for the most part, although the spectacular Banzai charges employed by the Japanese will usually result in rapidly mounting body counts, for both sides.

Improving the sounds by adding human shouts and commands would have helped to increase the flavor of this title, given how well most of the sounds work otherwise. Voice-overs may be pushing the limit of the game somewhat, but additional “human” sounds (with the appropriate on/off select option) could only help to reinforce the turmoil of bloody-island fighting.

Graphics, as discussed, lack the eye-candy appeal and may turn off those who are not already familiar with the series. However, dedicated wargame fans will no doubt be able to overlook this point as well. Because of these minor shortcomings, Squad Battles: The Proud and the Few falls just short of universal appeal and complete excellence.

 

A Few Good Reads

ISBN for books. I normally use Amazon books as my source.

 


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