War in the East

By James Cobb 22 Jan 2011 0

The conflict on the Eastern Front in World War II was titanic and decisive. Games dealing with this front should be equally titanic. Gary Grigsby and Joel Billings have created such games three times since the 1980s. Their latest effort, published by Matrix Games, is not only the culmination and refinement of their efforts but is the beginning of a series. War in the East should meet the toughest grognard?s explanation while making the interface easier for beginners.


Broad and Deep

The game map is huge, covering the area from Berlin to Siberia, the

Artic Circle
to the Caspian Sea at a scale of ten kilometers per hex at five zoom levels. Terrain features show mountains, cities, towns, rivers, swamps and roads clearly. Units representing formations from regiments up to corps use NATO symbols and display combat and movement data either as bar graphs or numbers. Overlays help visualize weather, supply, fortification and accessible hexes. These features can be accessed from one of three tabs that call up other functions, also available with hotkeys. These other functions include victory hexes, damaged railways, factory hexes and unit status.

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The other important tab shows unit factors in ever-deepening detail. The first level shows screens depicting national HQs such as OKH, STAVKA and lesser powers. Expanding this level pulls up army groups and fronts with directly attached air bases along with the HQ?s own status for supply, leader details, morale, movement and links to functions for assigning or creating units and changing leaders. Headquarters can also create and assign support units. Support units are not shown on the map but can be used to affect combat under certain circumstances. Expanding again delivers units attached directly to that higher unit and its subordinate corps and divisions. Clicking on one of these units brings up its supporting and component units as well as their factors. The next level is a regiment with its elements and factors such as fatigue. Selecting elements displays a picture and specs of the weapon. Confused? A graphic overlay allows players to see most of this information when a unit is selected.

The third tab is administrative with things like a save, exit, options and preferences. Gamers will most likely change preferences as they play more games.

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Such detail obviously indicates a significant learning curve. Learning is aided by tool tips, a forty-page tutorial manual that walks through the first turn of a short scenario and a 382-page PDF manual. Since the game is windowed, players will want to leave the manual open for easy access to it from the Windows tool bar. The game simply has too many details to be completely memorized.

Sounds effects for movement, combat and aircraft exist. Those effects are fine but not spectacular.

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Grappling Titans

War in the East portrays the death grapple of tyrants in four campaigns with the first starting in 1941 and ending in 1945 with the others starting in each succeeding three years, three operations and seven ?Road to? scenarios. Size of choices ranges from 224 to three weekly turns. At first impression, play is simple: select a unit, mouse over to a destination with an optional path showing expended movement points and right click at the end. Attacks are against adjacent enemies using combat values and are started by right clicks. Battle results are shown on a pop-up with defenders either holding or retreating. First impressions are very misleading.

Movement is not only a function of terrain and unit type but also of supply, undamaged vehicle, supple, initiative checks up the chain of command and the strength of the enemy unit exerting influence into the destination hex. The computer AI may initiate interdiction attacks. To insure sufficient supply and command, units must be within both five hexes and twenty movement points of its HQ which must be in range of a functioning railhead. Not meeting these restrictions won?t stop movement but will reduce it. Rail, sea and air transport face similar restrictions.

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Well-executed combat is also involved. A one-hex right-click attack is a ?hasty? attack, good for pushing weak enemies about but doesn?t maximize the attacker?s capacity or allow the involvement of support units from HQs and other formations. Holding shift and right clicking on an enemy as well as adjacent friendly units creates ?deliberate? attacks, allowing optimum use of attack factors and better chances for receiving support from in-range HQs and other units. Resolution begins with the computer handling air ops for both sides per air doctrine set earlier by players. Players can manually order air attacks on units, cities and airfields. Recon missions can dispel fog of war from units with high detection levels. Ground combat is then shown at one of seven levels of detail in the resolution screen; the lowest level just shows the end results while the highest shows the actions of each element. Victory is the ratio of the combat values for both sides as modified during battle. Defeated units can retreat, shatter, rout or be destroyed. In the worse cases, the victors can capture and eventually use equipment.

Although leaders and administrative points are used in every scenario, their importance differs between the smaller clashes and campaigns. Leaders? morale, combat, administration and initiative ratings can affect combat and movement in shorter scenarios while administrative points are used to form and create support, transfer units and facilitate rational supply and command nets. However, these factors actually come into their own in campaigns. Leaders? rating can change during a campaign based on win/loss ratio. A bad ratio can result in a leaders? dismissal or execution. Administrative points can be used to dismiss and replace leaders, transfer equipment to and from the national pool. Russians use points to create new higher headquarters and move factories to safety. The amount of administrative points can increase or decrease due to a schedule or the fortunes of war.

Other details concern the automatic updating of equipment and restrictions on allied powers? activity and surrender triggers. Russian soldiers can escape from shattered or destroyed units to create partisan units. These units are countered by the Axis by garrisons and special security units. Bombing factory cities can reduce production. National moral sets the bar for HQ and unit morale. Reverses on the front and city bombing can lower morale but not significantly.

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Some gamers will find the campaigns of War in the East overwhelming. Hopefully, the shorter scenarios will whet their appetites for the real meat. PBEM, internet play and new scenarios made using the editor guarantee replay value. The word ?definitive? should not be used lightly but, at this point, this product is the definitive game for the Eastern Front. Serious gamers should save their money and get it.

Pros - Great detail, clean interface.

Cons - Steep learning curve.

Minimum Specs

Processor: Intel Pentium or AMD, 1.5 GHz


Graphic Card: 128 MB vRAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible

Sound Card: 16-bits, DirectX 9.0c compatible (DirectMusic compliant)

Operating System: Windows  XP, Vista, 7

Hard Disk: 1.5 GB free disk space

DirectX: Version 9.0c


Reviewer's Specs

Windows XP home

Pentium(R) Dual-Core  CPU      E5200  @ 2.50GHz (2 CPUs)


NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285

DirectX 9.0c

About the Author

Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online, Gamesquad and Gaming Chronicle.



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