As I've admitted on numerous occasions, I'm not a wargamer and never have been; I simply lack the mindset and dedication needed to become one. But I am interested in military history and always have been. When I was a child, I enjoyed reading books about historical conflicts and I watched more World War II films than I can probably remember. Consequently, I probably would have loved FASA's 1982 roleplaying game, Behind Enemy Lines -- if I'd ever had a chance to see a copy.
Prior to the launch of BattleTech in 1984, FASA was a very different company -- a smaller, more hobbyist company whose products, while not as slick as what, say, TSR was producing at the time, had a lot of heart. I still consider many of their licensed Traveller products from around this period to be among the best ever produced for the game and I still look to them for inspiration. Unfortunately, smaller also meant "poorly distributed" and so I missed out on some of early FASA's more obscure products, such as Behind Enemy Lines.
It wasn't until comparatively recently that I got my hands on a copy of the game and its two supplements and I'm glad I did. Written and largely conceived by William H. Keith, one half of the Keith Brothers of Traveller fame, Behind Enemy Lines probably wouldn't fly as an RPG today (even though, ironically, it's actually still available as a PDF). Though very much a roleplaying game and not a wargame, it's nevertheless laser-focused on its subject matter. Players assume the roles of US infantrymen during the Second World War and undertake what are essentially special operations missions against Axis forces. Their characters' skills and characteristics are limited solely to those of obvious and immediate use in such missions. There are thus no skills for social interaction of any kind (beyond Leadership), including speaking foreign languages, nor are there any "academic" skills. "Weapons Handling" is a basic characteristic, while Intelligence or some variation thereof is non-existent. Behind Enemy Lines is very much a single-minded game and its mind is on commando missions during World War II.
Within its limited scope, however, Behind Enemy Lines really delivers, however. Many important subjects, from sighting to weather to artillery fire to demolitions and more are called out and given an appropriate level of rules detail, which is to say, treated more comprehensively than many RPGs do but not so much as to make using these rules a chore. Even more interesting to me is that one of its three integral books (Behind Enemy Lines was released as a three-book boxed set, along with maps and counters) consists of 48 pages of event tables. These tables are essentially the World War II equivalent of "wandering monsters," providing the referee with the guts of adventures, as the characters sneak their way across occupied territory on their way to complete a mission. The tables are remarkable in their specificity: you get tables for different terrain types, as well as lookout posts, fortifications, railroads, farmhouses, etc. Armed with these tables, a referee could easily create obstacles on the fly and there are enough of them that'd be some time before he ran out of entries.
If Behind Enemy Lines has a serious flaw, it's, as I said, its laser-focus on its subject matter. This is not a game about roleplaying during World War II, despite its subtitle. It is a game primarily about playing out a very precise sub-set of military missions during the Second World War. Within that scope, it's a well presented and researched game and I think it'd comparatively easy for a referee to run it satisfactorily just with the materials included in the box. But if one's interest is broader or even just as specific about another aspect of World War II, I'm not sure that Behind Enemy Lines would be of much use.
There's evidence that FASA intended to expanded the game beyond its original focus, but they never got the chance, probably due to its unpopularity. I've never met anyone who actually played the game back in the day, but, as I also said, I never even saw the game until quite recently. My guess is that, like many games in the first decade of the hobby, Behind Enemy Lines was a labor of love, a pet project by its designers that simply never found an audience. I don't exactly mourn for the game's lack of success, because, truth be told, even with my interest in military history, it's not the kind of game I'd be likely to play. At the same time, I do mourn, at least a little bit, for the days when game companies would release a game just because someone at the company was in love with a particular idea and wanted to run with it. That kind of passion is always valuable.