24 April 2014

PC Game Review: World War II: Road To Victory

And yet another World War II strategy game takes center stage. Can World War 2: Road to Victory set itself apart from its many competitors? Al Berke provides his thoughts.

Published on 26 DEC 2008 10:37am by Scott Parrino
  1. IQ Software
  2. Matrix Games
  3. world war ii, air combat, ground combat, turn-based, operational, strategic, europe, naval combat

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Up to 32 countries can be controlled.

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Blitzkrieg in Russia.

Introduction

World War 2: Road to Victory is a turn-based strategy game covering the European Theater during the Second World War, from 1939 - 1946. Players can control all of the countries involved, to include the major powers of Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, United States and the Soviet Union, who are divided into three alliances; Axis, Allies and Comintern. During a turn, each country gets an opportunity to move and attack with their ground and air units, move their naval units, use their production points to purchase new units, transportation points, replacements or upgrades, invest in technological research and use their diplomacy points to influence neutral countries.

World War 2: Road to Victory is an okay game, but it suffers from a lack of historical realism. Though it contains strategic elements such as diplomacy, technology research and production, the scale of the game, with the map scale at 20 kilometers to the hex and units representing divisions, corps and individual ships, is actually operational. At that scale, I expect a certain level of detail that, to me, is not provided. To paraphrase Gregg Easterbrook, “Caution, this game may contain some World War 2 like substance.”

The good news is that the game has a simple interface, uses action points for movement, overrun combat and deliberate combat, has flexibility in production and research and bestows the gamer with the addictive “just one more turn” draw of a good strategy game.  The bad news is that the game has a plethora of historical inaccuracies, to include the interaction between air, naval, and ground units, orders of battle, production abilities, leaders, submarine warfare, stacking, transportation and ship repair times, geographic issues, and a city based supply system that does not support historical campaigns.  

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Deliberate British attack to Naples.

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French at a disadvantage in 1940.

A Long and Winding Road

The first thing I noticed about World War 2: Road to Victory was the length of the scenarios. Other than a ten turn starting scenario based on the 1939 invasion of Poland, the game ranges from 140 to 190 turns.  For those interested in how in-depth my impressions of the game are, I managed to get through the entire 175 turn 1940-1946 scenario as the Allies (France, United States and Great Britain) and parts of the 1939 scenario as Germany as well as starting the 1941 scenario as all the major powers. The first patch for the game included a play by e-mail option for up to eight players, but I did not get an opportunity to try it out.

To see if the Germans could achieve at least their historical conquests, I started with the 1939 scenario with all the other countries run by the computer. The invasion of Poland showed some of the strengths of the game, especially in the ground war. Ground units come in division or corps size and are distinguished by a single combat strength and a number of action points. Units increase in strength and number of action points through both automatic increases in effectiveness and raising technological levels by the expenditure of production points in research. Armor is the strongest in both values, followed by motorized and then infantry units. Ground units use action points for both movement and combat.  Ground units can repeatedly attack as individual units, but suffer a penalty in their combat rating. Multiple units can attack together once per turn, with a bonus that increases for every additional unit attacking from a different hex. This is a nice dynamic that illustrates both the advantages and the coordination required to conduct a deliberate attack along multiple axes. Air and naval bombardment can be used to soften up defending units before an attack. There is no stacking allowed in the game, which, while simplifying things for both the player and the programmer, has no historical basis given the scale of the game.

With the surrender of Poland, the first set of historically driven events popped up, in this case concerning the partition of Poland between Germany and Russia. Though most of the events seem to give the players a choice, there tends to be little benefit to choosing to alter history. The French player can choose to “attack” Germany in 1939, but the French armed forces are too weak to have any effect on the German stay behind forces, even if an offensive is launched. As an aside, the French Order of Battle (OOB) does not appear to reflect history, perhaps being cut down for play balance purposes. I think this is a shame, as the national effectiveness and technology levels inherent in the game should have been enough to differentiate between Germany and France, not only allowing Germany’s advantages to carry the day, but also giving France its actual OOB so it could put up a fight.

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Attritional air campaign.

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An out of supply unit in big trouble.

But I digress… Historically, the next major action in Europe after Poland’s defeat was the invasion of Denmark and Norway. Denmark was easily overrun, but the German attempt to invade Norway reveals weaknesses in the game system. Historically, German land based air power severely limited the ability of the Allied navies to operate within range of those air bases. In World War 2: Road to Victory, however, land based air can not interact with naval forces at all, and superior naval forces can effectively operate anywhere within the sea areas they are located.  In addition, while amphibious assaults are possible, there is a high probability of amphibious task forces being intercepted by enemy naval units. Thus, German attempts to invade Norway as far south as Oslo, well within range of German land based air, were ingloriously defeated by the entire combined Norwegian and British navies, with not only the transports, but the entire German navy being sunk. And don’t even think about invading Great Britain in 1940! For me, the Battle of Britain quickly became moot. Air power in World War 2: Road to Victory is expensive to produce and without a significant technological advantage, the losses I would suffer appeared to make a war of attrition against the Royal Air Force a fool’s errand. Better for Germany to ignore Great Britain and build up ground and air forces for the invasion of the Soviet Union. A few months later, the AI running Italy decided to declare war on Greece, though I never saw an actual attack. As the German I had some forces set aside to deal with Yugoslavia, so I shrugged and got ready to accelerate that part of the war. Looking ahead, I noticed that Crete, site of ferocious air, land, and naval fighting, had no city or port. Since supply is based on tracing land routes to cities and ports, this meant that any force that landed on Crete would be stranded out of supply with no ability to recover as even amphibious transport requires a port to embark. 

At this point I was disillusioned with the game’s limitations in portraying history, so I gave up on the scenario I was playing and stopped for a few days. When I came back to it, I started a 1940 scenario as the western Allies, namely France, Great Britain and the United States.

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Battleships are good submarine killers.

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Lend Lease is a no-brainer.