Review: Strategic Command WW2: World at War

By Bill Gray 06 Dec 2018 2

Review: Strategic Command WW2: World at War

Released 06 Dec 2018

Developer: Matrix Games
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
Direct
Steam

Well color me impressed! And excited! World War II and strategic play is not my favorite way to game but suffice it to say I not only enjoyed playing Matrix Games Strategic Command: World at War (WAW) this past weekend but am continuing to play it even now.

That says a lot. The game is fun, and for me the reason it is fun is its elegant simplicity backed by what seems to be the perfect balance between economics, diplomacy and actual military considerations. And did I mention the game also has updated graphics as well as a few unique twists to make WAW stand out from its peers?

Yes, you should get this game. Here’s why.

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Haupt Quartermeister

WAW has a completely different look than its ancestors, the Strategic Command Classic series to include World War I (which I own), World War II and Global Conflict. Its actually quite similar to the 2016 release Strategic Command WW2: War in Europe and is a vast improvement IMHO. Gone are the maps that seem to be shot at a Google Earth Birdseye View 45-degree angle. The color palate and icon mix has also been changed to produce what looks to be a more 'adult' (really, only word I could think of) wargaming style. Gone are the 3D sprites of forests and cities, replaced with a top down view to match the new and similar map style. Likewise, the regulating squares used for movement in the Classic series are now hexagons, outlined every so gently that turning them on is hardly a distraction.

Like the Classic series, WAW gives the player a choice between 3D sprites and NATO symbology to represent combat formations, but even here there is a change. In the Classic series the NATO icons looked like they were stood up vertical on small stands, while the new rendition has them typically wargame flat on the map. They also have a small national symbol in the lower left corner (red rising sun for Japan, white sun on blue for China) to make quick identification super easy.

Personal opinion here, but I’ve never liked the 3D sprites at this level of game as it always seems a little too simplistic, almost juvenile to me. The 3D depiction of a city I can handle, but when the infantry corps entrenched there looks like a squad of 3000-foot-high Panzergrenadieren, I dunno. Maybe it’s the miniatures player in me, or maybe they really were that advanced in HGH (Human Growth Hormone) research in 1939, but it just doesn’t look right. On the other hand, I know lots of folk who are perfectly fine with the design.

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Regardless, running the game should be a snap, and it actually feels faster and smoother than Classic games. Like most wargames of this type, hardware requirements are light. Right now, I am running WAW on my wife’s refurb computer she uses for home accounting, Email and not much else. It runs an Intel 64 bit Quad 3.4 GH processor with 8 GB of RAM, a 465 GB hard drive and onboard Intel HD graphics with 2 GB of video RAM. I run the display resolution at 1440 x 900, and so far, I have had nary a problem to deal with.

Vorwarts Marsch

WAW is a game of military strategy, not grand strategy. This means while the game covers the employment of national level resources to obtain victory, they do not include an overabundance of non-military assets such as economics or diplomacy. They are there, but in a very limited and transparent way. This, as we shall see, is part of the balance I spoke of above.

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The game uses units that generally represent entire armies or corps, plus supporting elements such as naval fleets and air groups. I did not readily note a scale but suffice it to say that the entire world is portrayed, from Berlin to Tokyo, Murmansk to the Falklands and everything in between. AWA is played in alternating turns, each representing 14 days, but with a twist. Per the 1939 scenario, the first two weeks of the months are taken by the Axis Powers as their turn, the last two weeks of the month are taken by the Allies. I’m not sure of the why of this process, or whether it has an appreciable impact, but I did find it interesting.

During a turn a player conducts strategic operations in any order he desires, to include movement, combat, logistics, research and diplomacy. This latter, non-military set is controlled by the use of MPPs (Military Production Points). At the beginning of each turn the software will add and total the number of MPPs each major nation has, based on status plus the amount and kind of territory controlled. These MPPs are used to buy new and replacement units, fund research or initiate diplomacy. Using a band of buttons at the top of the screen, the player can choose eligible units to add to his force pool, pay the required MPPs and then after the appropriate building time has elapsed, the units join his army, navy or air force. Research works the same way, with MPPs expended to research various technologies which upgrade current units and so forth. Interestingly enough, when new units are added, the player is given the option of choosing an historical name for the unit such as Grossdeutschland. Likewise, some units available are HQ units and these are named after the historical commander who ran the show, like Generalfeldmarschall 'Smiling' Albert Kesselring, with different MPP costs depending on the competency of the general in charge. Research, however, is generic so while you can upgrade the anti-tank capacity of Japanese infantry, but you don’t specifically build the Type 4 70mm anti-tank rocket launcher.

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It's all very simple, though even simpler is the diplomacy process. You simply spend MPPs to increase a minor country’s chance of joining your side in increments of 5%, up to a defined maximum. And that’s it and that’s the point. There is no calculating coal production, building infrastructure or managing conscription levels with population variances. There are no trade agreements or defense pacts to negotiate. To me its just the right amount, the proverbial sweet spot, of non-combat play to keep things historical and interesting, without bogging the game down for everyone except those with an accounting degree.

Military ops have a lot of components to deal with and include special rules when necessary (think partisans, U-boat warfare and the like), but overall simplicity is key, and something called Action Points (APs) essential. Each unit on the board by type is allocated APs that it expends to move, fight and so on. Simply click on a unit or hex, and the hexes within movement range are highlighted. Click on a destination hex, the unit(s) move there. If the destination hex is adjacent to or occupied by the enemy, click on it and your forces will attack. Only attacks from a single hex are allowed at a time, but you can attack an enemy formation multiple times in a single turn. Actually, unless artillery or aircraft, friendly units may move and attack for as long as they have APs. The AI then applies results which could include a retreat, but nearly always the loss of strength points. The system works quite well and is very fast.

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Click the next turn button, and your (VERY competent) AI opponent does the same thing in its turn, leaving you some time to peruse the 300-page user’s manual. Not. For one thing, a lot of pages are devoted to illustrations and all the numbers and calculations behind what happens on screen, something you really don’t need to play WAW. The common knowledge that armored units don’t do well attacking infantry entrenched in beautiful downtown Stalingrad suffices more than enough, making whatever the real percentage is superfluous. Quite frankly, the game is simple and straightforward enough in its presentation that you can quickly learn the game by simply clicking and trying things out, which is what I did.

The game also has pop-ups that appear now and then to keep you informed about what’s happening in the rest of the war and to offer some strategic advice. Take it. Seriously. I played the Japanese trying to overrun China in the 1939 when the friendly neighborhood AI suggested I keep forces in various cites in Manchuria lest Uncle Joe Stalin perceive weakness and act accordingly. 'Accordingly' is something akin to the battle of Nomanhan as depicted in the movie My Way. Ask me how I know.

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Schwerpunkt

Now you may think to yourself, “Wait a minute, you played ONLY Japan?” Yup sure did. As noted, one of the other very strong selling points of this game are a series of clever and unique processes I’ve not seen elsewhere. One of these is that while the player controls either the Axis or Allies, he doesn’t have to actually play ALL the major countries of his coalition. Instead he can have the AI – yes, his opponent, that one – play some of his major combatants for him. For example, the Axis consists of three major powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. I opted to play Japan only as the conquest of China with Soviet intervention is something you don’t see that often in gaming. I could still do things with the former two powers like research, reinforcements and diplomacy, but as soon as I hit the Next Turn button the AI immediately had Germany attack Poland (love the way the game marks out “the front”) and shipped damn near the entire Kriegsmarine into the Baltic. Truth is the AI does things very historically, so if you do NOT want to attack the Poles, you best take control of the Reich and do otherwise. You can turn this feature on and off, and in a similar twist, you can change sides in the middle of the game. Got Panzerarmee Afrika on the ropes in the desert as the Allies, but wanna see if you could salvage the mess as Erwin Rommel? Sure because you can switch to the Axis side right then and there, letting the AI play Field Marshal Montgomery and the lads.

Other nifty garnishments concern all those pop-ups that provide information, strategic recommendations and random events. You can actually go in and decide which ones to keep in the game and which ones to discard. So if you don’t believe that French morale tanked in 1940 after the Maginot Line was flanked, kill that random event and it won’t happen. You can also do things like change the turn type from alternating to something more simultaneous, mess with the weather, and yes you can build fantasy weapons like the proposed German aircraft carriers Deutschland or Peter Strasser. Like its predecessors, the game is imminently editable and a modder’s dream.

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Zapfenstreich

As noted, strategic and World War II are not my favorite wargaming subjects, and yet here I am playing this game (damn, Kuomintang just recaptured Beijing) while my spouse watches the Houston Texans spank the Cleveland Browns on the gridiron. Truth is this is easily one of the best games I’ve played regardless of subject or command level, but that’s only half the story. I’m also excited for the future  because I am a Great War nut, and I note the Classic series had a World War I game as part of the package. Contemplating the War to End All Wars getting the same treatment as WAW has me all a tither with anticipation.

I can hardly wait.

Review: Strategic Command WW2: World at War

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