Kriegsmarine is the latest expansion to Artistocrats’/Matrix Game’s Order of Battle: World War II (OoB) series, not surprisingly taking the setting to the high seas as – surprise! – Germany in WWII. Not that the game has heretofore lacked a naval aspect; indeed, it could be argued that, in a Second World War game that features a U.S. Pacific setting and U.S. Marines, not to mention their Japanese opponents, it could hardly avoid introducing navies before this iteration. Thus, one may wonder just what this expansion adds – but as it happens, that’s what we at Wargamer are here to tell you, Dear Reader!
If you’re still reading you’re probably already a fan, wondering whether this latest expansion is worth your USD $9.99 | £6.99; therefore, I’m also going to assume that you’re already familiar with OoB terminology and features. So, let’s get to it!
The main changes are that big ships now have ‘big guns’ as well as secondary armament – i.e., increasing range in addition to firepower – which require a ‘cooldown’ of a turn or two. ‘Batteries’ have been added to submarines, limiting their ability to stay submerged before having to surface in order to recharge, also taking a few turns before submersion is once more allowed. The trade-off is that they are harder to detect, in that only adjacent units can spot them on the surface; more on this – and other tactics – in a bit. The final major new feature is the ability to save a Replay of each scenario/battle, simulating a video of your play-through with toggle-able events and reports (off if you don’t want to see them during a replay).
New Specialisations have been introduced as well, such as Flugzeugträger, or the development of carriers; Plan Z, granting extra Resource Points; and Schlachtschiffe, enabling H-class BB and O-class BC. However, unless one is consistently able to earn extra Specialisation Points (SP) via secondary objectives – few and far between – I found acquiring many of them problematic in Kriegsmarine. (They aren’t applicable in other campaigns, since they’re specific to the Kriegsmarine and in Blitzkrieg the German navy is mostly AI-controlled.) For example, while most Specialisations cost 5-7 SP, some are 10, while Plan Z requires 20! Thus, earning only five per scenario, plus an additional two or a measly one here and there, makes for some hard choices. I would have liked to see these bonuses either more frequent or increased, as that would serve to offset some difficulty; again, more below.
Speaking of scenarios, nine in total range from supporting the conquest of the Free City of Danzig, to wolfpack hunting, as well as invasion support (Norway, Murmansk) and opposition (Africa, D-Day), plus a ‘what-if’ attack on Scapa Flow. New units introduced include seaplane tenders for launching/repair, plus a celebrity cast of German and Allied warships including the Hood, Bismarck, Graf Zeppelin, as well as their respective naval bombers etc… in total, we’re looking at 50 units spread across never before seen concepts (tenders, etc…) as well as Allied/German ‘skins’ of existing unit types (CV Ark Royal etc…).
DIVE, DIVE, DIVE!
In somewhat limited testing as beta versions changed (necessitating in most cases a restart of my campaign), it seemed that balance was decent overall, though the often overwhelming Allied numerical superiority means that your forces are less and less likely to come through intact as the campaign progresses. I didn’t do much testing of various Difficulty settings; predominantly playing on III. Vizeadmiral. I encountered other plenty of other challenges as well, some attributable to unfamiliarity with new tactical requirements, especially in respect of submarines and their new obligation to surface and remain so every three-or-four turns, as well as a tweak to surface combat mechanics. Something for other veteran players to take note of!
It was especially challenging to employ my U‑boats so as to remain in a position to attack once batteries were recharged and tubes reloaded, while not risking detection by an enemy blundering upon you, including merchantmen (destroyers still use normal sonar detection for submerged U-boats). The other tactical change is simpler though perhaps even more delicate to manage: Players no longer have to merely try to keep range-to-target the same so as to maximise to-hit/damage, but it behoves one to also keep moving, as a stationary target is now easier to hit – and vice-versa, naturally.
During my play I encountered only a single CTD that I was unable to recreate, and no other bugs, plus only one misspelling (‘seperate’ vice ‘separate’!). Beta testers reported relatively few, mostly minor that appeared to be fixed almost right away with the next version. So, good on Artistocrats for what looks like a virtually vermin-free release!
As to actual gameplay, overall I found Kriegsmarine a decent challenge although my low tolerance for frustration reared its head a few times. Un-learning old tricks & tactics while trying to learn the new style of naval warfare certainly kept me on my toes, but I also found myself over-matched nearly everywhere by enemy numerical – if not always technological – superiority, which led to more than a few do-overs. This is an arguably consistent aspect of the series at large though, which you can see in my review of Winter War, for one, and also this thread which has some takes from newer players. At $9.99/£6.99 this is a reasonably priced DLC that gives you a glimpse into an aspect of the war rarely covered. Also considering that, as my fellow writer James Cobb mentioned to our Editor, “the German Navy couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag”, you’ve certainly got your work cut out for you and there should be plenty of challenging fights for your money.