The Wargamer's Guide to... The Best WW1 Strategy & War Games24 May 2018 6
The boss has asked me to followup to last week’s offering with another covering the digital side of the house, and I was pleased as punch to do so. Take notice, however, we are talking WARgames here, not warGAMES, so don’t expect to find any Great War knockoffs of RTS fare like Command & Conquer or first person shooter like Doom. Now lads, over the top with you!
Guns of August 1914 - 1918
Publisher: Matrix Games
Tags: strategic, hex Based, moderate complexity, turn based, WEGO, corps
Purchase: $29.99 - direct
The older graphics and 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 a limited number of activations. Points are used to research tanks, gas, trenches and to influence or declare war on neutrals. Ships are assigned orders and areas while subs starve Britain. Air units are assigned to fronts. Play uses two-month turns composed of impulses resolved simultaneously. The map covers Europe, the Middle East and some of North Africa. Each nation of a coalition is handled separately. National morale and exhaustion determine victory. The game replicates the attrition aspect of World War I quite well.
Strategic Command Classic: World War I (Review)
Recently republished, the 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 entry 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. The British blockade eats away at Central Power morale while creating havoc to British supplies is made easier by clear convoy routes and silent sub modes. Domestic policy is handled abstractly. 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 adds spice to the game by providing a look at the First Balkan War 1912-1913 and the other options.
Commander: The Great War (Review)
Slitherine’s 2012 game shows how the Commander engine could handle World War I. The terrain and unit graphics combine 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. A management panel shows countries’ overall status. Submarines are always submerged and can be attacked only when the 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 while a simple supply system makes this game accessible to new gamers and still captures the essence of the topic. Also available on iOS.
To End All Wars
Using a better engine this game features two-week turns, while 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 AGEOD click-and-drag engine with a battle mode for selecting tactics. Weather affects movement and supply. Success on the field and triggered events yield diplomatic points and decreases or increases 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. An expansion module called Breaking the Deadlock is available.
Supreme Ruler – The Great War (Review)
Publisher: Battlegoat Studios
Tags: grand strategic, war economy, industrial production, world theatre, very complex
Purchase: $19.99 US on Steam
This software is concerned more with logistics and resource management as opposed to putting rounds down range, but there are several areas which make play unique. There is a full-fledged weather system, while movement is a simple process of drawing a line from start to destination, then allowing the AI to figure out the best way to get there. And believe it or not, all of this is done in semi-real time. The detail in the game is fantastic and doesn’t simply allow of things like heavy artillery. No, the player must choose the type of gun – 130 mm vs 152 mm for example – for his rubles based on what was historically available. But the BIG draw of the game is the scope. While most games define World War I as East Front, West Front, Italian Front and Lawrence of Arabia, this game takes the term “World” literal. The game covers the entire globe, so if Japan invades China, you move to that real estate and fight/produce it out. And you don’t stop in 1918 but can continue the game on well into the 21st Century.
Hearts of Iron – Darkest Hour (Review)
The Hearts of Iron franchise needs little introduction as one of the most famous strategic World War II games ever. Darkest Hour is actually a variant of HOI Armageddon created by a group of dedicated modders in love with the series. It is a stand-alone game with two scenarios, one beginning in 1936, but the other in 1914 covering WWI. It's a typical strategic logistics and production fare but using the HOI engine and overall design as the selling point. Often called the best of all HOI add-ons, the game has outrageously high reviews on Steam. Trust me, if you like Hearts of Iron, you will like this.
France ’14 and East Prussia ’14 (Review)
Publisher: John Tiller Software
Tags: operational, Western Front, Eastern Front, hex based, turn based, battalions, moderate complexity
Purchase: $39.95 US France ’14 direct, $ 39.95 US East Prussia ’14 direct
Scale is 1 km per hex, two hours per turn with battalion sized units. Tiller’s 2010 offering, France ’14, is only one of two legitimate World War I operational level games. The 3D icons are too small for easy use but the 2D counters and the meticulously detailed terrain provide a satisfying experience enhanced by the colorful uniforms in the info boxes. Weapons include early reconnaissance aircraft, German siege guns, and French 75s. Fortifications like Liege show the difficulty in taking chains of strong points. Lessons from fighting the first five weeks of conflict all revolve around time. Going from travel to combat mode takes time even for the ubiquitous cavalry units.
The fast movement required by the plans of both sides means more and more HQs go out of the chain of command as campaigns continue. Movement to contact requires the use of roads creating traffic jams. All these factors combine to show why the maneuver was so slow. The game’s companion package, East Prussia ’14, is similar but more fluid with greater movement. Both games can be linked into a single campaign.
Squad Battles - First World War
Publisher: John Tiller Software
Tags: tactical, squad, company, turn based, hex based, moderate complexity
Purchase: $39.95 US direct
John Tiller Software addresses turn-based small unit tactics in this 2014 offering in a game where units are leaders, squads and companies, and where hexes are 40 meters across with each turn covering five minutes of time. The 2D graphics show the troops’ heads while 3D figures stand on bases. Terrain ranges from the shell hole Hell of the Western front to the beaches of Gallipoli. The 67 scenarios include two linked campaigns covering the entire war so that Turkish, ANZAC and Canadian troops get their due. The full panoply of weapons shown include trench knives to grenades to poison gas and tanks. Seven separate campaigns follow field officers including Major Charles W. Whittlesey of “Lost Battalion” fame.
Rise of Flight (Review)
Publisher: 1C Games (Russian) and 777 Studios
Tags: tactical, flight, simulator, air war, first person shooter, very complex, real time
Purchase: Free direct from publisher, but additional aircraft have varying prices
Gorgeous graphics support likely the most realistic game on this list. While you can reduce the complexity, full throttle this game is an air force grade simulator that would make Manfred von Richthofen’s jaw drop. Cockpits are meticulously rendered and require you to fly the plan as did the lads in 1916. Some aircraft did not have a throttle but required the pilot to change the fuel mixture level, and this game does likewise. Your Pfalz D.XII stall? Well you’ll need to turn the engine off to recover, because that’s really the way it was. Also unique is the game’s business model. You can download the software along with three planes and play for free, forever. But getting additional planes and upgrades costs extra. Being a Russian software company, you also get access to a lot of plans you likely have never head of, such as the Gawd awful huge Sikorsky S-11 Muromets bomber (which will cost you $20.00 US BTW).
World War I was extremely complicated, arguably more so than World War II. No single game can do equal justice to all aspects of the conflict. However, the 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.