The best computer wargames pay homage to their tabletop ancestors, becoming in essence grand computerized translations of paper maps and cardboard markers. The only exceptions that come to mind are Sid Meier's Gettysburg! and Close Combat, which could only have been done on computer. Atomic's V for Victory games, arguably computer wargaming's high-water mark, worked well because they melded the familiar wargame format (tiles on maps) with an ease of use that could only come with a computer. The Operational Art of War, Vol. 1 sets another high-water mark, but on a much grander scale, and creates a new standard for large-scale computer wargaming.
The Operational Art of War is a dream project of designer Norm Koger, whose resume includes such great computer wargames as Tanks, Age of Rifles, Conflict: Korea, and Conflict: Middle East. Koger's trademarks are a rigid adherence to realism, detailed unit modeling, unusual scenarios, powerful scenario editors, and - most importantly, considering the preceding characteristics, ease of use. At SSI, he didn't get as much attention as the other chief designer, Gary Grigsby, but his games were based on infinitely more sound designs and have consequently held up better. No one will puzzle over The Operational Art of War as they did over Pacific War.
This doesn't mean The Operational Art of War is lightweight. It's exceedingly complex, but its complexities are layered and ultimately accessible. A user-friendly tutorial and largely intuitive interface ease you into gaming, but there's plenty going on below the surface. Since the game system encompasses nothing less than the whole sweep of modern warfare, ease of use is essential to keep you from becoming mired in details, as with the Third Reich system.
In game terms, "operational" essentially means the place between grand strategy (where political and resource modeling become necessary) and tactics (where close combat and maneuver are more common). This means combat is based upon the range of the weapons involved. In essence, it plays like a divisional-level game with a flexible scale and detailed unit composition. The scale can range from 2.5 to 50 kilometers per hex and from company to corps level. Units are represented on the map by standard tile markers, though a sluggish 3D mode reminiscent of TalonSoft's Battleground games is also offered. These units are linked into command groups ("formations") that are able to work smoothly together during combat. To set up an attack, all you need to do is click the attack unit or stack of units and right-click on the target. Pop-up menus enable you to set the degree of attack. A "plan an attack" feature zooms in on the surrounding hexes to fine-tune which units will attack and check the probability of success and projected casualties. (Some option to view unit details in the "plan an attack" menu would have been helpful.)