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I remember getting Axis and Allies as a kid. Sure, grognards may scoff, but for my first real introduction it had all the right elements. When I was older and introduced to the more complex games like Avalon Hill's Third Reich or SPI's War in Europe, there was a lot more in terms of complexity and they added more to what I was looking for. Recently in the computer realm of things, we have the Hearts of Iron series from Paradox, Commander: Europe at War from Matrix Games/Slitherine, Making History from Muzzy Lane, the Strategic Command series from Battlefront. Wastelands Interactive started as a mod team for Hearts of Iron II. They eventually spawned their own games: Time of Wrath, Storm Over The Pacific, Time of Fury, and—now their smaller version of a grand strategy game in World War 2 Europe—Strategic War in Europe.
Strategic War in Europe is a turn-based grand strategy game. It’s often compared to Time of Fury as being smaller—in terms of scale and the time allowed to complete the game. Instead of a monstrous 300 turns, like some scenarios in Time of Fury, it only takes 70 turns to play the entire struggle from 1939-1945. The map covers an area from Norway in the north, North Africa and the Middle East in the south, the Urals in the east, and the Coast of the US and Canada in the west. It's at grand strategy level, which means you're focused on the larger scope of the war rather than every individual battle. The unit scales are: corps for the ground forces, air wings for the air units, individual ships and a few destroyer escorts for the naval units. You play as either the Axis (Germany and allies), The Allies (US, UK, Canada, and France) or the Comintern (USSR); against the AI or against another opponent. Hot-seat play is available, as well as “Play by Email” (PBEM).
There are “Quick Start Scenarios” and “Custom Scenarios”; each one starts in either 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, or 1944. The custom scenarios allow you to modify the scenario as you see fit. You can have the AI handle any of the nations represented. So you could, for example, play as the US while the AI handles the UK—if you were playing Allies.
There are tutorials and they do a good job of explaining the game mechanics, how to move your units, attack, supply, etc… However, there is one tutorial that is a bit buggy—the one on naval combat. I did notice in the Wastelands Interactive forums that they are looking into this and it will be fixed in a later patch. Reading through the manual was also a bit helpful to understand how all this works.
There is a lot you do in one turn, in addition to moving and attacking. You use “Production Points” (PP), which are essentially "the currency" of the game. These allow you to do everything from purchase units, to produce or upgrade those units, research new technologies, get supply and reinforcements to existing units, as well as use them to purchase points (“Sea Transport Points” and “Amphibious Invasion Points”) for that eventual Sea Lion or Overlord. You also have “Diplomatic Points” which are used to carry-out diplomatic actions. Diplomatic actions include pressuring a neutral into joining your alliance, staging a coup, or declaring war.
Research is another use for Production Points. This allows you to eventually produce more effective tanks, troops, ships, subs, aircraft and even nuclear weapons. You simply spend points in the area you wish to research. The catch of nuclear weapon research is you still need to have a unit that can use the nuclear bomb. It's not as detailed as Hearts of Iron's tech tree, but it's not trying to be that either.
Production is done by clicking on the unit you wish to purchase and the level you want that unit to be trained in. Each level costs more. So it is sometimes better to produce an infantry corps at level one and then upgrade them to level 2. Production takes time: so be aware that you won't be able to have a unit built in one turn. Some units take longer. Naval units, for some reason, are cheaper than aircraft but take the longest to produce.
Ground units are moved by left clicking on the map and then left clicking where you’d like to go. Each unit has a number of “Action Points” which permit it to do certain actions per turn. You also have the option of adding a commander to your unit; they give you better attack bonuses in terms of combat effectiveness. All the forces (naval, air and ground) have a commander represented. So you could have Doenitz in command of a German U-Boat fleet, Eisenhower in command of a US mechanized corps, etc…
Attacking is done by clicking on the target unit and then clicking on the attackers. You then get the listing of what the possible odds are in the attack. Once you click again to confirm a window appears that shows what happened in that attack along with any modifications due to having a commander, supply, etc… Units can still move if they have any Action Points remaining—which is handy for breakthroughs.
Ground units can perform “Para Drops” (if they're airborne corps), amphibious landings or can be transported by sea. In order to embark, a unit must be in a port city and then loaded on a “Naval Landing” unit; from there it can move into the sea zone and then disembark on a beach hex. “Sea Transports” are a bit different; they have to enter a port to be unloaded. But like the Naval Landing units, they are vulnerable to attack.
I do like how the game portrays air warfare. Fighters do reconnaissance and intercept any fighters on their patrols. This also helps uncover more of the fog of war, and gain air superiority. “Tactical” air units are used to attack any ground forces and naval units. “Strategic Bomber” units are used for bombing cities, reducing Production Points, and can also be used to bomb ground units—but less effectively. You can re-base any air unit unless it has been moved, reinforced or resupplied.
Para drops are done within a 20 hex range. But keep in mind, you will have to make sure you have air superiority as heavy losses can occur on landing; as well as making sure they have a supply point.
The naval side is where things get interesting. Here you have not just battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines; you also have cruisers and convoys. Convoys are represented by setting up a route from one port city to another. You can then transfer supply points or Production Points. This can be set-up to be done automatically in the game options.
Orders are given to fleets; they can move in a raider formation or in a regular formation. If they're in a raider formation they can evade patrols while not engaging any fleets. If they're in a regular formation they can engage any fleets they encounter. I liked this part because it gives the German Kriegsmarine a bit of a fighting chance—the numerical superiority that the Royal Navy initially enjoys doesn't allow them to destroy all German surface vessels that ventures abroad. Plus, naval units like battleships and cruisers can bombard any ground forces; aircraft carriers can launch air strikes and reconnaissance patrols. Vessels can also return to port for repairs, which costs Production Points. You can also group fleets together and move fleets in-and-out of groups. Moving fleets is done differently. Naval units can move from ports to sea zones. To engage them in combat you click on the target you wish to attack, then that unit attacks. Or, you can attack automatically by changing an option.
Supply is done through convoys and port cities, railroads ,or “Mulberry Ports” ( a nice little feature). Mulberry Ports aren't cheap though (300 PP’s), but they can give you a temporary supply point for at least 20 months in game time (20 turns). Once a turn is over you get a detailed listing of what happened, in terms of convoys and enemy raider actions. Diplomatic events that are triggered also appear at this time (such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Like the Hearts of Iron events you can choose the historical outcome or the alternate historical outcome. After this, a new turn begins.
Okay, so how does it play? It's quite good, for a budget title ($15.00). It isn't as overwhelming as Hearts of Iron can be; it’s very manageable in terms of micromanagement. However, there are some technical issues that need to be corrected. The game can be a bit buggy at times. I had some issues with the sound which led to the game running really sluggish. I liked how the developers tried to simplify things, and it wasn’t too much. By comparison, the turn times are much faster than Time of Fury. It's moddable as well—this will add more enjoyment to the game. It fits in that happy medium of a grand strategy game focused in World War 2 Europe—a medium that strategy gamers like. This is a game that can be finished in a few hours rather than days or weeks. It isn't deep, but it’s not too shallow either.
Review written by: Chris Reichl
AMD 5200+ 2.5 GHz
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
4 GB DDR2 Ram
3200 HD 256 MB Radeon Integrated graphics.
About Chris Reichl
Chris Reichl has been a gamer since he was 9 years old when his mom bought him a copy of TSR's Dungeon. He still remembers the 1st Edition AD&
and started to play wargames when he was in his teens. His love of history is partly due to the fact his dad was in the Navy and during their many tours he managed to visit Waterloo, Culloden, Yorktown, Appomattox Court House, as well as many castles in Scotland. He is an avid reader and reads anything he can get his hands on from history, historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi. In addition to his gaming activities he also enjoys playing electric guitar and music. Chris didn't get into PC gaming until he had his own computer. He started playing with Panzer General. This eventually led to Wargamer.com, which he has been a member since 2006. His first article "The Once and Future King of Britannia (a King Arthur AAR)" was featured on Wargamer.com in 2011. Chris is currently residing in Appleton, Wisconsin and working on an Associate's Degree in IT as a Computer Support Specialist.