Putting a prettier face on war[gaming]

(Ed. note: First post in a month and a half, and 99% of you probably couldn’t care less about the new post’s topic. Can’t have everything, I guess.)

Back in the day (’80s, ’90s), I was pretty big into board wargaming. Now it’s 2009, and I’m getting back into wargaming, but this time of the computer variety.

One of my favorite games series right now is the Panzer Campaigns series from HPS Simulations. Some of the greatest situations of World War II, all based on a common game framework, making it very easy to go from one game in the series to another. Good historical detail, decent AI (important since I’m usually playing solo)…

…and some… well, really dated graphics. As in the graphics make it seem like I’m back in the ’80s, sitting at a table with my old SPI games. Still great games, don’t get me wrong, but when you see what others have done (for example, Matrix Games and their historically accurate and nice-to-look-at games), it makes you wonder if it’s necessary for HPS to sacrifice the eye candy completely.

Fortunately, third-party efforts are around that attempt—and quite successfully—to bring some new life to HPS’s games, graphically speaking. The two biggest (from what I can tell) and best (from what I’ve seen) are Volcano Mods and MapMod for Panzer Campaigns. Volcano Mods tackles the foreground—the unit counters and displays. MapMod tackles the background—the game maps themselves. Put them together (and they get along very, very nicely together), and the visual refresh is quite stunning.

Take, for example, the before and after (with both Volcano Mods and MapMod) for Bulge ’44, the HPS entry into the Battle of the Bulge:

HPS Simulations Bulge ’44

HPS Simulations Bulge ’44 (after Volcano Mods and MapMod)

Want to see some more? Let’s look at El Alamein ’42:

HPS Simulations El Alamein ’42

HPS Simulations El Alamein ’42 (after Volcano Mods and MapMod)

One more? OK, here’s Normandy ’44:

HPS Simulations Normandy ’44

HPS Simulations Normandy ’44 (after Volcano Mods and MapMod)

I love the updated unit counters from Volcano Mods. But I love love love how MapMod replaces non-unit counters with unobtrusive (but equally informative) map symbols—so now when you see a counter, it’s a unit counter and not just some map-related “noise” such as a trench or minefield or such. For board wargames, a counter is the only choice, but it’s nice to see MapMod taking advantage of the new medium.

Now if I could only find more time to actually play them…