Making History: The Calm and the Storm

By Scott Parrino 10 Jul 2007 0

Legend has it that, after his abdication as Holy Roman Emperor, Karl V spent his time synchronizing a multitude of clocks, saying it was less stressful than juggling the different parts of his empire. Players of strategic level games can identify with that sentiment. A recent entry into this field is Making History: The Calm and the Storm, developed by Muzzy Lane and published by Strategy First. This game has a fairly unique and long genesis. Aimed at educators for classroom use, the first version was sold on-line by Muzzy Lane itself. Flat and didactic, that game would have never grabbed wargamers’ attention but it had a seed of hope. The subsequent retail version, although an improvement, had dull combat and some disconnects in the economic and diplomacy model out of the box. Patch 2.01 made many improvements based on user comments. Though uneven, the game’s facility for giving players much historical leeway makes for a game that can be addictive and certainly educational in terms of which considerations make for a successful country. The wide-open yet rational opportunities for play in each scenario free players from the chains of scripted events.

Germany at the start of the 1936 scenario.

I bought my copy through Steam with its automatic installation and updating process; no troubles were noted and the PDF manual was updated with the patch. Boxed versions are available at retail stores for $29.99; installation from these CD versions shouldn’t differ materially from similar games.

The 49-page manual is thorough and readable. The online tutorials yield a good grasp of basic mechanics if not actual gameplay. A PDF Quick guide is also useful as an introduction to mechanics. An in-game “Book” also explains key concepts, elaborates on units as well as providing a detailed summary of the world at the turn it was opened.

Flat but Workable

The graphics in this game are not whiz-bang but are acceptable. Of the six map options, players will primarily use the Operational map. The world is shown broken down into countries, using different colors, and their constituent regions, equivalent to provinces or states. The regions appear fairly accurate in size and shape with their values for population, food, fortifications and transportation shown in the information a side bar with a right click. Cities and resource facilities such as mine, oil wells and foundries are shown as 3D icons rather plopped in to regions. However, geographical feature are handled badly. Great mountain ranges appear as mottled splotches and mighty rivers are almost invisible at maximum zoom although their deltas are visible if one knows where to look. The other five maps simple show factors such as ideological leaning and diplomatic or trade ties with colors.

Missouri is shown as a region. Note the absence of the Missouri river but the inclusion of the Lake of the Ozarks.

The supply map shows areas where military units of a country will be in supply.

Military icons are 3D and well done for the genre. Their figures are country-specific and improved versions have different icons. These evolutions are best illustrated in the fighter aircraft series as it advances from bi-planes to jets. Animation is minimal with infantry marching in place, artillery limbering up and bombs falling from planes when viewed with the tilt option. Some icons are incongruent such as the 83nd Airborne shown as a ship on D-Day. Battles are marked simply with a large orange marker and figures shooting at each other. Sound effects are minimal with airplane engines growling at take off and little else.

The Western Allies hit the beach. The units in Britain are waiting their turn.

Menus ‘R’ Us

The mechanics of Making History: The Calm and the Storm are almost completely menu-driven. Five panels, representing summary of the country’s situation, military assets, diplomatic options, domestic factors and economy, lead to submenus for each. For example, the first level of the military menu shows army, navy and air force summaries and clicking on one brings up a list of units; clicking on one of those shows the unit’s component parts such as infantry, different kinds of armor and different sorts of artillery. Many of the other major categories have even more layers with many columns and sortable tabs.. Several of the menus have long lists of options, nations and products. Players looking for a quick game will be frustrated by all these clicks but those who want to patiently build up power will get used to them. Fortunately, many functions can be shortcut by right clicks. For instance, clicking on a city allows changing its production right there instead of picking it from the list in the economic menu. Likewise, ordering units by right-clicking on them brings up a handy list of options. Subjects like international trade don’t have such easy options and require scrolling for some functions.

The diplomacy screen is being used as Germany helps Franco.

The information on the menu themselves are easily ready with icons show all elements pertinent to the area and clear text. The financial pages are broken down into line items for spending and revenue. Impacts of transportation, productivity and culture are shown for regions and cities, elaborated on by tooltips. How resource shortage affect production and population are made clear on several menus. This game has a large amount of useful information and is not shy about showing it.

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