Strategy and Grognard Games : The Most Popular Niche

The folks over at Battlefront games just released an update for the Combat Mission games. This update, known as V4, covers the latest BF games. But there’s a bit of a storm brewing over what a lot of people consider a patch, not an update. So how does a niche game, in the most popular niche, handle this?


First off, it’s very hard to argue with someone when they are profitable. Especially if you’re on the sidelines with no skin in the game besides your own entertainment. Now what you can argue is how profitable a company could be if they made a different decision. But I’ll admit that Battlefront has a strong argument as they are a firm that continues to operate in a profitable manner. But times change. Markets change. Customers change.

So for $10 per game, or $25 for all of your games, you get an engine update to V4. So what’s in the update?


  • HULLDOWN COMMAND: Vehicles have access to a new movement command called Hulldown. This command allows a vehicle to move forward until only the turret is exposed to a specified target, and then the vehicle stops moving.
  • IMPROVED INFANTRY SPACING: Infantry on the move will now respect each other’s personal space! While moving, squad and team members will maintain a few meters of distance between each other. Soldiers will also spread out laterally on the move when possible (some terrain may necessitate column movement, such as paths through rough terrain).
  • PEEKING AROUND BUILDING CORNERS: Infantry units positioned adjacent to building corners will now automatically post some soldiers at the corners to observe and fire around the obstacle
  • AI PROACTIVELY AVOIDS HIGH-EXPLOSIVE FIRE: The TacAI that runs soldiers and vehicles will more proactively, and reactively, attempt to avoid incoming HE fire. Two classic examples are that the AI will attempt to avoid being wiped out by incoming artillery barrages and direct tank fire.
  • COMBINE SQUAD COMMAND: Combine Squad is a new Admin Command for squads. This command is useful for squads that have suffered major losses and need to consolidate their remaining personnel into larger teams!


  • EXPANDED WAYPOINT DESCRIPTIVE TEXT: More special unit commands (such as Hide and Deploy Weapon) will now be marked with white floating text above the waypoint they are assigned to.
  • CAMPAIGN BRIEFING: The overall campaign briefing is now viewable during any campaign mission by going to the Menu Options Panel and selecting “Campaign”.
  • FORWARD OBSERVER KILL CREDITS: Finally, time to see how effective your artillery really is! Forward Observers now get credit on the AAR for any casualties caused by off-map fire missions called in by them.
  • SCREEN EDGE PAN TOGGLE: Tired of trying to fine tune a camera position and then messing it up by touching the edge of the screen with the cursor? Using the hotkey ALT-E you can disable camera panning by touching the screen edge with the mouse cursor.


  • AI AREA FIRE ORDERS: The AI can now be scripted to use Area Fire! Each AI Order can have a target zone designated.
  • AI FACING ORDERS: Each AI Order can be given a location for it to Face towards.
  • AI WITHDRAW ORDERS: AI Groups can be ordered to Withdraw towards their movement destination. Vehicles will move in Reverse to the destination, while infantry will leapfrog back while turning around to face behind them.
  • CAMPAIGN RESUPPLY: Personnel replacements and ammunition levels are now more uniformly resupplied across all core units between campaign missions, as opposed to the all-or-nothing check on each unit done previously.
  • 3D FLAVOR OBJECT CLONE TOOL: Flavor object can be cloned within the 3D view without having to go back to the 2D view.
  • 32 ORDER AI PLANS: Each AI Group can now have up to 32 Orders, increased from 16.
  • STREAM TERRAIN: Small streams can now be placed on battle maps.


  • New tracer and muzzle flash effects.

So is this new content worth $10? Or something that is core to the game and should have been released as a patch?

Sorry Battlefront. This is a patch. These are all what I’d consider core functions that the game should have to play well.


Battlefront have communicated about this on Facebook and engaged in some fairly petty arguments. They tossed around an entitlement argument comparing this to Adobe Creative Cloud (A $50 a month software lease). But really, this isn’t in the same league. No offence guys but just because you’re the only kid on the block doesn’t mean you’re the best kid on the block. And comparing your software model to something completely different isn’t fair. Adobe CC generates income, it’s a tool. Combat Mission is a game.

Taking your communication onto Facebook is also ugly. Your primary mode of communication is in a very public realm. Sure you get eyeballs, but then why have a forum? I think Paradox is a good example here. They post a dev blog to the forums, people communicate there, and they have complete control over the conversation.

At the very least just state your argument and leave it at that. Belittling customers doesn’t do anyone any good.

I’m not going to post links to those conversations. Don’t go there. Don’t touch the poop.

Now I did pay the $25. It’s not a bad game, I just think they made a bad move.

A Different Model

Paradox is a prime example of offering a base game, keeping it up to date, and adding content for you to choose. If it’s basic and functional to the game then you get it as a patch. If it’s new content then you pay. Some content is really great (Reaper’s Due or Conclave) while other content is not. (Sunset Invasion or Unit Packs). And also, it’s on Steam.

Steam is where you buy games today. It has the eyeballs and the infrastructure. The world is littered with good games that tried to go on there own, even Matrix is bringing the odd Grog games onto Steam. (Post-Russian Revolution Game “Revolution Under Siege” for example)

So does this model work? Well, let’s look at some niche games and see. Because if World War 2 games are a niche they have to be the most popular niche out there. As evidence of that point the only two games of this sort both kind of suck have issues. (Combat Mission and Graviteam Tactics) So now we have two games with horrible interfaces and both are profitable. Look at Company of Heroes, or Close Combat, or Battlefield. People eat this shit up.

  • Total War : Rome 2 / Attila / Charlemagne – One of the most popular on this list, and it is wildly popular. Tens of thousands of units, great graphics, a fairly niche time period. The campaign gameplay is decent but the actual battles are quite entertaining. Also has a replay mode which most of these don’t.

  • Crusader Kings 2 – A complex game where you almost need to be a medieval law scholar to understand succession. On the plus side it has enough tooltips to choke a goat. It definitely has enough DLC to choke a goat. Very well received with critical acclaim.

  • Command : Modern Air/Naval Operations – Look at this game, it’s like you moved onto the bridge of a missile cruiser. I’m into this stuff and I don’t even know what’s going on half the time. It models damn near everything but has a complexity curve close to EVE Online. But you can pick it up quick, toy around, and generally enjoy yourself. Literally thousands of user made scenarios covering every conflict from 1946 to 2050.

  • Battle Academy  – It’s like war game light and is fairly well popular. Over $60 worth of DLC just for the first game.

  • Europe Universalis IV – An even more obscure continuation of Crusader Kings. Tons of DLC, lots of explanation, and generally a ton of fun.

  • Gary Grigsby’s War in the East – Nothing but hexes and icons. Almost just a spreadsheet simulator with a graphical layer. Right now, at full price, it’s ranked #119 on the Steam strategy game list. Cities Skylines is #120. Total War Rome 2 is #115. Hell it’s ranked higher than Master of Orion ffs.

  • Ultimate General Civil War – A game in early access that is getting rave reviews from my friends. Civil War with a political RPG layer? Awesome. The graphics look good, it plays well, and things just work.

  • Decisive Campaigns – Again, hexes, tables, googly eyed soldiers. But it’s unique with a unique layer.

  • Dwarf Fortress – Literally no graphics. Not on Steam but is free. The devs thrive on donations and repay the customers with regular content updates and crayon drawings. (~$90,000 last year, he releases his donation numbers)

The Future

So what does the future hold? Likely it involves someone developing a game like Combat Mission using an engine like Unity. They’ll have a Paradox style release schedule and let users design maps, add mods, assets, scenarios, etc. It’ll probably open up with a D-Day scenario. It probably won’t break much new ground but it’ll come onto Steam, push all the right buttons, and have a well engaged team (or single) developer.

Combat Mission is fun. It’s cinematic. It’s entertaining to play. It’s realistic enough to fit my needs. It plays quickly, but with enough depth to keep me thinking. You get moments where at the very end of a turn you see an RPG just meters from your lead tank. Or when a jeep miraculously crosses through a village filled with Panther’s and never even skips a beat. Sometimes the game just blows me away like no other game out there. I really hope it can continue to grow.

I just wish it was more than it is. It’s barely niche, and is only so because the developers choose it to be. C’mon, it’s WW2 Normandy, how much more mass impact can you get for a wargame era?

Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.


  1. The Historical Gamer

    If battlefront wants to go the subscription route they should go full bore and charge a monthly access fee like MMOs otherwise patching like this feels like they’re charging for big fixes and game optimization which seems wrong. There’s no real content in there.

    • Casey

      I’d have no problem paying a reasonable subscription if the features and work justified it. But it’d take a lot of work, community engagement, and a different vision than what they have now. Having to use a third party file organizer to do PBEM is plain ole archaic.

  2. Marco

    Damn, that was what I thought when that came out, I was very resistant to buy it, in the end it was need it because of the games that I was running with others and a little of the chrismas shopping spree, but man that was a rage shop. I looked the facebook page and what shitty thing, full of answers from battlefront with lots of “we are a niche, edgy little company and nobody likes us…..”, they made a WWII game in Normandy!!, I point out the comparison to Graviteam Tactics, a company that makes a game about the Mius (I had found that name 1 or 2 times in eastern front books) and make patches that has more stuff that this “update”. Hopefully when they’ll release their 5.0 update we have been move out to another game and another company.

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