I've been wargaming since the late 60's, and it was wargaming that brought me to SB. I first purchased the game about 3 - 3-1/2 years ago I had looked into SB on occasions previously, but three things kept me away.
First, I was not at all interested in anything beyond the scope of WWII. Not understanding that SB is a training simulation used by modern militaries, I held out hope that the models might some day include WWII era tanks. Still, it seemed to be just a simulation... a gaming genre for which I gaveth not the heiney of a small obnoxious rodent. Lastly, the price was waayyyy more than I was prepared to play for a game which was not in my preferred historical era and not my preferred style of play. To this day, I still love top-down, hex games. Realistic? No. Fun? Yes, especially for someone growing up when computers filled rooms the size of my home.
I came to SB from a Combat Mission background. I own all of the WWII games, including the original CM 1 series… CMBB still sits on my hard drive. When Shock Force came out, I had no interest, but finally purchased it after most of the kinks were worked out. I played it once or twice. Later, when CM Black Sea was published, I originally had no plans to purchase it, primarily because modern stuff did nothing for me. I knew nothing of current systems and didn’t think I’d have much interest in the game. But, purchase, I did and it completely changed my focus in wargaming… Over the last four or five years, I’ve played very little with equipment from 1940 – 1960, give or take a couple of years. I’m still not nearly as knowledgeable of modern systems as I am (was) with WWII, but I have learned a little.
While expanding my search for modern titles, of course I came across SB. As I stated earlier, I purchased the game, with CodeMeter, 3 years ago. I played around with it a bit, enough to learn to drive and shoot the M1, but not nearly enough to understand the depth of it beyond a tank “shooter”.
I have always, since the advent of computer gaming, been a solo player. In the mid/late 90’s, I did play CC-ABTF online a bit, but soon tired of the ladders and cheats that went with them. In Steel Beasts, I was overwhelmed by the learning curve, and not being one to reach out to others for help, I just put it back on the shelf. I picked it up again near the end of last winter with a determination to try and understand the game a bit more. It has since consumed nearly all of my gaming time, whether that’s reading through the manual and wiki, watching videos, and playing through the U.S tutorials. My work schedule pretty much limits me to weekends and honey-do’s take up a portion of that, although my wife is probably more understanding of my hobby time than most.
At this point, I feel I have an adequate grasp of the gunnery for the M60, A1 & A2. I'm getting better as the TC. I still struggle a little with M2, but am getting more confident. I’ve played a bit with the Leo’s and have tried the T-72 on the tank range. I’ve never jumped into a Marder or any of the Russian PC’s, nor have I tried any of the other NATO kit. I’ve played just enough with the infantry model to get troops loaded/unloaded and from here to there.
So, to answer the original questions:
1. Can I “claim with confidence to having mastered more than three different fire control system families?”
2. How long did it take you?
I’ve been at it less than a year, feel that I have one down pretty well and working on a couple of others. I’ll get there and with winter coming, I should have more time.
3. Do you know the difference between a Retreat route and a Retreat condition?
Yes, but only because I’ve read and continue to read the manual. I’ve been working with the logic because I have to understand this to have any reasonable chance of success as a solo gamer. I now see that trying to control anything more than a platoon requires understanding of the game’s logic.
4. Is Steel Beasts a computer game among many for you, or is it a hobby of its own?
Wargaming has been a hobby for 50 years. Steel Beasts started as a part of that, but is becoming a hobby of its own.
5. What are the things that you personally are struggling with?
At this point, there’s a lot that I struggle with. Working through that is what makes SB fun for me, but it’s not without its frustrations.
I do watch a lot of videos, but often, many of the videos are put out by people without an understanding of the game. More than that, some that do understand the game don’t seem very tactically proficient. This latter statement is true for many (most?) games I’ve played. More video, by more knowledgeable players (like Mirzayev) would be a great help… for me at least.
SB is complex, but that’s part of the reason I play. I believe it’s as close to the real thing as can be attained behind a keyboard and monitor. It’s a simulation; if I wanted easy, I would play FPS’s or solitaire. SB is also first game I’ve played in many years that I’ve even considered playing online. I haven’t yet for several reasons, time being one. I’m hesitant to commit to something unless I’m certain I can follow through. Secondly, although I’ve read the wiki, downloaded TS and found the SB channel, I haven’t a clue what to do after. I have not played any game at all online, even PBEM, for over twenty years.