• Strategic Command WWII: War In Europe review by Rick Moscatello

    Slogging through the blitzkrieg

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    Years ago, a great World War II wargame was played on a huge map, with dozens, hundreds, perhaps even a thousand tiny cardboard counters representing the myriad of forces that fought in “the big one.” These games took twenty or more hours to play, and had rules manuals as large as phone books (another relic from bygone days).

    When these games moved to the computer, they went in one of two directions. First was the “let’s make these games more accessible,” and led to masterpieces like Panzer General. The other direction, “let’s make the rules as complicated and realistic as possible, and let the computer handle them so we can have a real simulation,” has not yet found it’s masterpiece, but designers are still trying.

    Strategic Command WWII: War In Europe is the latter type of game (I’ll just call it SCW2 from here). The manual is a thunderous 216 freakin’ pages…you don’t have to know it all to play a decent game because, yes, the computer handles many of the details. The designer says that “ease of play” was one of the major goals of the game design, and, frankly, if that’s your goal, you’ve probably failed if the game needs 216 pages of docs to describe (admittedly, dozens of those pages are about scenario creation and things you can ignore if you just want to play the game).

    Anyway, SCW2 is part of a line of Strategic Command games which have been around for over a decade. My first experience with them was a World War 1 game, and that’s where the series shines. When you first build a game, particularly a war game, the engine you build really suits the kind of game you want to build. The Strategic Command engine works well for World War 1—it handles supply lines, entrenched fronts, and long campaigns taking place over months which, even if successful, only change the battle lines a few hexes one way or the other.

    Trouble is, World War II was a very, very different war than World War I. Truly viable tanks and seriously dangerous airplanes were major additions to the battlefield, a place where technological improvements were so fast that the advanced weapons of 1939 were woefully obsolete by 1943, and laughable by the war’s end. Entire regions were overrun in weeks, only to be re-overrun in the other direction months later, a situation that simply did not happen in the trench warfare of World War 1.

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    Research success! My tanks go from a rating of 1 to 2. Exciting!

    While I totally respect the effort here, SCW2 just doesn’t have the right engine for WW2. The major problem is the game literally tries to cover everything about the war, and so we have a bunch of subsystems tacked on, none of which are particularly satisfying.

    Before going further, I should mention there’s only one currency in the game: MPPs. You want to put troops on trains, send an ambassador to Greece, research new tanks, build a new army, equip your troops with new weapons, reinforce a damaged unit, build fortifications, or anything else, it all comes from the same pool.

    As a nice slogging game where you try to break through enemy lines and capture the capital, it works well enough, but time and again I found myself dissatisfied when I wanted to do much else besides engage in an infantry war with a bit of support from tanks and artillery.

    For example, you can spend MPPs to try to get Albania into the war a few weeks earlier…is that really as useful as a division of tanks? It doesn’t seem like it, and the points I spend on one are the same as I spend on the other…ignoring Albania just makes more sense. Time and again I found myself either ignoring a big chunk of the game, or being unhappy at the implementation.

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    Surround and sink, rinse and repeat.

    It’s hard to say what was the least satisfying. Perhaps naval combat? The system is just so garish…you find an enemy ship, surround it, and pound, pound, pound, away until it sinks. You need to surround, as a ship can move huge distances during its turn (because the game engine really never was meant for naval combat…). If you just damage it and leave an opening, it’ll zip all the way back to port and repair.

    Another problem is the scenarios are pretty limited. You can start the war in 1939, or 1940, or 1941, or 1942, or any other year. It really highlights how poorly the engine works. If you start in 1939, you’ll invade Poland. Then slog your troops across Germany to invade France the next year—what you’ll get “organically” only vaguely resembles what you’d see if you just started in 1940. After conquering France, you’ll spend many turns slogging units across Germany again, to set up the invasion of Russia in 1941…again, it seems nigh impossible to get a situation that looks like what you’d have if you just started in 1941 to begin with.

    I grant that there should be some differences, but a few narrow scenarios allowing the player to focus just a few aspects of the game would have gone a long way to bringing someone into the game—in 1939 you’re already moving ships all over the Atlantic while reinforcing North Africa (slowly…) while doing all the other things you need to do, every turn, to keep the war running.

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    Yay! Another factoid to impress the grognards.

    The highlight of the game, by a huge margin, is the collection of little historical vignettes and choices you can make (if you’re willing to spend the MPPs). They give the game a nice educational slant—there was much more to WWII than Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad, and Pearl Harbor.

    There aren’t many games in this genre of this type, and truth be told, none have really managed to capture the “fight the entire war on every single level in great detail” style in a satisfying, much less easily approachable, way. Fans of this type of game will find SCW2 amusing enough, but the genre clearly still awaits a truly defining game.

    Overall Rating 78
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Strategic Command WWII: War In Europe review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post