So, after watching a good few videos of this game, I was convinced to buy and try. After playing several skirmishes, and reading up on the game and what it'll be on proper launch, I have to say I'm glad I purchased it.
For those who're familiar with the Wargame series, the controls and overall mechanics won't come as anything new. However, this is far more than a Wargame re-skin to WW2 era. It will have mechanics similar to Wargame (suppression, etc) though vastly more improved, and serving mechanical and tactical value. The damage models remind me a lot of Robz Realism Mod for Men of War: Assault Squad 2. If that makes you go, 'Oooooooooo', then keep reading.
The game has three phases of battle: Phase A (recon), Phase B (Skirmish), and Phase C (Battle). These phases are meant to represent a more realistic combat or two armies coming to clash. This makes all the more sense on a conquest game mode (more on that later). These phases represent a unit's logistics, communications, leadership, planning, etc. Different decks have different units available in those different phases. Also, depending on the unit, your requisition points (now a flat tick amount) are dependent on the unit you're playing as. A highly mobile unit with its focus on speed (such as a ranger unit) will have more requisition points in Phase A than an armored unit--since armor is slow, and takes time to be brought to bare. However, once in Phase C, that armored unit will have far more requisition points than the rangers. This again represents those logistics and comms. coming together, and the heavier armor finally arriving to battle.
In addition to those phases, some equipment is available only when a certain phase is met. As well as the amount of units per card, tend to increase the further phase card you select. Example: Phase A cards, I can choose a P-51. However, that Phase A card will give me only one plane. If I go Phase C P-51, that singular card will give me 3 planes. So not only do you need to decide what equipment you want, but WHEN you want it, and HOW much you want. This ties in directly to when your deck is at its strongest, and what phase of combat your deck build is meant for. A lot of this game is timing.
This game is NOT a spam fest. Even in Phase C, a single card of Shermans may only give me 4 or 5 tanks. Fewer, if it's something heavier (like a Jumbo). Every unit you bring out matters, and every loss is something to be concerned about.
Let's go back to mechanics for a moment or two. Suppression plays an even more important role in Steel Division, than in Red Dragon. Suppression will begin to wear on the unit's morale, and the more fire they take (and the heavier caliber of fire), they will become all the more concerned for their safety. Not only does this effect their combat performance (which was basically the extend to Wargame's), but will provide different repercussions depending on what's shooting at them. Example: I'm shooting some German infantry with an HE cannon. They will suppress quickly, due to the nature of the projectile being fired at them. When their morale is broken, they will go into a Pinned Down state. When pinned, if I push infantry (not recon, more on them later) on them, the Pinned Unit will surrender, and be taken off the field. Example 2: when being suppressed by other infantry/smaller caliber, when the morale is broken, they will Fall Back. Armor will do this too. This is a mechanic you cannot control, and they will fall back in the most direct route away from the enemy. Once out of fire, they will hold position, gather themselves, and you then can return to controlling them. This is important, since Supply does NOT replace infantrymen. ONLY ammo.
Recon does as you'd expect--recon the area, and provide better spotting for those with bad eyes/optics, like tanks. However, recon--due to their sneaky nature--do not have any conquest control. Meaning, they do not affect the battle line. Different unit deck's have different recon types. More infantry centric decks, may have recon who are more straight up infantry, while some may be AT heavy. What this means, is you can be very sneaky. Sneaky your recon Panzerschreck unit into some nice dense hedgerows along a road, and turn off all their guns, sans the AT. Not only will you give yourself good spotting, but, should a vehicle drive by, they'll be in for a rude surprise. Because you don't affect the line of battle with recon units, there's no way to know you're there, until you fire--or are spotted.
The gameplay is even slower than Red Dragon. This is very much focused on tactical smart thinking, than twitch reaction. The right unit, in the right place, at the right time, often means the difference between winning or losing.
What I like, is how they've made the game very tight, regarding decks. As it states in the title, this is focused ONLY on Normandy in 1944. So, ONLY the units that partook in that fighting, are available. So; no Russians, Japanese, US Marines, etc. They've chosen some of the more iconic units (101st, duh) to represent the different deck styles: Airborne, Armored, Motorized, Mechanized. BUT! There is less symmetry than you may think. Example!: one of the German units, an SS division that was stationed on the Atlantic Wall, as many might know, were given some of the finest of equipment, but due to that whole Eastern front deal, many were conscripts. To represent that, many of the line infantry, are in fact, conscripts. They take a 25% more morale penalty, due to their lack of formal training. So an armored v. armored deck, may not be so clear-cut, as one might think.
I like the smaller focus. This means greater refined balance in the units. This means each and every deck is viable.
Oh, and the AI doesn't suck anymore. They don't spam. They actually try and fight over strategic areas. Will hold ground. Will fight, in a half-way intelligent manner. It feels more like playing a player, than it does an AI. Since this game is to have a single player campaign, I look forward to it being more thoughtful, and more satisfying, than the Red Dragon, 'find a chokepoint and just stick tanks on the other side and go afk' approach.
Alright, I've typed enough. There's still more fantastic things they've done, but I'd rather play more Steel Division.