The Wargamer's Guide to... Strategic WW1 Videogames

By James Cobb 02 Feb 2017 2

Since we're more than halfway through the centennial of World War I, I feel a look at videogames for the 1914-1918 period is in order. Since the meaningful concepts of the war were strategic, that genre of games will be the focus of this article. A follow-up looking at more tactical-orientated videogames may be on the horizon, and you can always check out Bill's table-top compendium for some offline entertainment.

Guns of August 1914-1918 [Matrix Games]

Frank Hunter of ADANAC Studios jumped the guns by releasing this game in 2007. The graphics represent the basic approach of the period and the mechanics are clunky but capture the crucial problem of the combatants: a war in which the resources and military thinking of the coalitions were outstripped by industrial warfare. In the four scenarios marking each year of the war, players must choose which HQs to activate given the limited number of activations. Points are used to research tanks, gas and trenches as well as to influence or declare war on neutrals. Ships are assigned orders and areas while subs starve Britain. Air units are assigned to fronts.

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The Germans, French and Belgians square off against each other in August 1914.

Play uses two-month composed of impulses with orders resolved simultaneously. The map covers most of Europe, the Middle East and some of North Africa. The units are corps and individual ships. Each nation of a coalition must be handled separately. National morale and exhaustion determine victory. If players can master the interface and turn sequence, this game replicates the attrition aspect of the war well by having actions paid by gaining abstract currency. All of these games do the same but with different names; production points, recruit points, etc... Available via the Matrix Store.

World War One Gold [Matrix Games]

Developed by a sole programmer and published by AGEOD in 2010, the original version didn’t go far with a map where north was on the left side of the screen. AGEOD and Matrix did several quick fixes and made the game acceptable. Graphics show terrain in Europe and smaller areas in Asia Africa and Palestine well but units are the usual AGEOD icons with detailed lists of divisions per army. The mechanics represent an early version of the AGE engine with drag-and-drop being the main control assisted by tabs and messages. Turns have phases and several sub-phases for each battle.

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The forces gather.

Innovative concepts abound such as choosing a war plan different from the historic one. Clever diplomatic and domestic events – strikes, popularity, etc. = and choices give players food for thought in the campaign game and the eight small scenarios have a military focus and a quasi-tactical battle mode. However, the engine is brittle enough to make all the innovative options more cumbersome than enjoyable. Available via the Matrix Store.

Strategic Command World War One: The Great War/ Breakthrough [Battlefront]

Hubert Cater of Fury Software and Battlefront entered the fray in 2010. The base game is derived from the popular Strategic Command series with its hallmarks: terrain is bland but functional while the 3D units are entertaining. The normal IGO/UGO turn system is here with clicks ordering movement and combat. A row of buttons gives entree to research, diplomacy and the like. Events, different weapons and even more emphasis on national morale set this game apart from its World War II stablemates.

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German forces mass for the 1918 offensive.

The British blockade eats away at Central Power morale while research allows simple growth in air, tank, infantry and gas tactics. Creating havoc to British supplies is made easier by clear convoy routes and silent sub modes. Domestic policy is handled abstractly. How players react to events can change the complexion of the game. The first campaign covers the entire war while adding two shorter campaigns, seven operations and even a World War II campaign. The 2012 expansion Breakthrough gibes spice to the game by providing am alternative 1914 campaign twist, a look at the First Balkan War 1912-1913 and the Franco-Prussian War, nineteen more operations and battles covering all theatres of the conflict. This game proved the breadth of the war could be captured with fairly simple mechanics. Available from Battlefront.com.

Commander: The Great War [Slitherine/Matrix Games]

Slitherine’s 2012 game shows how the Commander engine could handle World War I. The terrain and unit graphics are very good, combining simplicity with enough detail to make them interesting as well as informative. Mechanics are simple with tabs bringing up panels for research, diplomacy, production, and selection to show unit stats.

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The lines are deadlocked in 1917.

A management panel shows countries’ overall status. Submarines are always submerged and can be attacked only when an enemy stumbles into their hex. Air, artillery and infantry capabilities grow through research. Commanders are attached directly to units instead of separate HQ units. A unique swapping function allows units to easily exchange places. The five campaigns cover each year of the war. Research focus on broad topics instead of individual concepts and a simple supply system makes this game accessible to new gamers and still captures the essence of the topic. Available via Slitherine, Steam and on iOS.

Making History: The Great War [Factus Games]

Factus Games continues Muzzy Lane Software’s tradition of academic games with this 2014 title. Unlike the other games in this article, the scale is grand strategic where players deal with the intricacies of building specific factories and institutions in cities in their countries given present resources. Choices to play are the eight major powers or any other country in the world. An in-depth economic and trade system will take up most of player’s attention with many panels and screens providing a flood of data.

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Serbs and Turks clash in 1912.

The graphics are very simple and mechanics are the usual clicks. The three scenarios are 1912, 1914 and 1918, the later concentrating on making peace rather than war. The military depends heavily on the economy and research with battle being handled automatically when opponents inter the same province. Many events requiring player decisions appear in the week-long turns. This product elevates play from the war itself to the conditions that started the conflict and allows an alternative line of events. Available via Steam.

To End All Wars: Breaking the Deadlock [Matrix Games]

AGEOD took another swing at the cat with this 2014 entry using a better engine. Using two-week turns, the main map covers Europe with off-map boxes for the rest of the world. Units begin as single armies but can be broken down by increments to regimental level. Leaders can be attached, promoted and demoted under certain circumstances. Lists and map filters lay out the many factors of play. Movement is the AGE click-and-drag engine with a battle mode for selecting tactics.

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The Russian steamroller descends on East Prussia.

Weather affects movement and supply. Success on the field and triggered events yield diplomatic points and decreases or increases the all-important national morale. Players can use regional decisions to accomplish operational goals where diplomacy is a matter of alignment. Submarine warfare is more abstract than in other games. The base game has two full 1914-1919 campaigns with smaller scenarios such as East Prussia. 2015’s Breaking the Deadlock expansion has five smaller scenarios such as Rumania and Palestine. This entry is a nice compendium to the many factors of the war. Available via Steam and Matrix Games.

Summary

World War I was extremely complicated, arguably more so than World War II. No single strategic game can do equal justice to all aspects of the conflict. However, the six games mentioned above contain all the critical aspects when taken as a group. Every level of play, from beginner to hard-nosed veteran, is represented by them. Players should begin with the level they’re comfortable with and then try more complex games. Strategic games are not the only entry for World War I computer games. Operation games such as John Tiller’s France ’14 and East Prussia ’14 and tactical games like Blackmills M2H’s Verdun offer keen insights. Yet, full understanding of how this epoch-changing event played out must be had at the strategic level. Got any more Strategic-level WW1 games you want to highlight? Comment below and tell us!

This article discusses games developed and/or published by members of the Slitherine Group. For more information, please see the About Us page.

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