Grand strategy games have always had two components: civilian and military. Although intertwined, one part usually dominates the other. Paradox Interactive’s fourth rendition of its World War II series, Hearts of Iron, may have hit upon a way where each component is equal. To do this, the game is now very deep and comprehensive – so much so that each part, civilian and military, deserves its own review.
The Whole World at Your Feet
Hearts of Iron IV’s map covers the whole world with countries clearly divided into provinces. The default map shows only stars for capitals when zoomed out but displays structures such as airfields and factories, rivers, forests, cities and mountains when zoomed in. The other two main maps show naval and air sectors. These maps are supplemented by six overlays dealing with borders, supply, resistance, diplomatic relations, war-time factions and resources. Other toggle-able map options are having the night/day cycle shown, switching colors between alliances and countries, and showing the battle plans of allies.
Zoomed out, units are shown as small bars with unit type designated either by a combat symbol such as a tank silhouette for armor or with NATO symbols. Morale and organization are shown as very small horizontal colored bars. Zooming in shows figures of men and equipment with the ubiquitous tool tip giving more information. Battles bring up animations of men shooting, tanks grinding forward and planes zipping above the ground. Battle sounds are the usual standards, but weather sounds accompanied by clouds and lightning are superb. The best images can be found in the production screen where weapons, planes, ships, and vehicles appear in delightful detail.
This night zoomed-in screen displays Frankfurt’s factory. Note the data and tabs at the top of the screen.
Crucial information is contained in two rows of data and tabs across the top of the screen. The most important data are national unity, political points, manpower and military experience. Beneath these are tabs beginning with the national flag and a sequence of tabs opening panes for research, diplomacy, trade, construction, production, recruitment and logistics. The next sequence is a series of boxes indicating the status of various aspects of the nation. These boxes will flash when players’ attention is needed. The next set of tabs reports the status of the army, navy and air force. All of these boxes and data are plagued with the industry-wide curse of dark-on-dark images and small font. While these are still functional, players can make their lives easier by using something like Virtual Magnifying Glass http://magnifier.sourceforge.net/ while playing in windowed mode.
Focus, Adolph, Focus!
The game has two scenarios: January 1936 and August 1939 with options for historical or ahistorical AI responses and three levels of difficulty. While players can choose any country, only seven great powers and Poland with the free DLC has national focus. This feature is the driver for the nation’s course with trees for the economy, industry, diplomacy, the military branches and research. Given that all nations were struggling with the after effects of the Great Depression, players starting in 1936 will concentrate on re-building the economy first and then moving on to more expansive goals. Germany will be the country used to illustrate the civilian side of the game. This flag pane also selects economy types from free trade, controlled and wartime.
The clear choice for Germany is to start the Autobahn to put men back to work. Completing this focus will take seventy days but players have other things to do to revitalize the Vaterland. Opening the research tab reveals four empty slots. Clicking on one brings up twelve different tech trees delineated by years. The trees are badly marked with very dark symbols but, once again, the tool tip saves the day. The last two trees are industry and engineering. Three slots can be filled from these trees in 1936 to boost construction. The last slot will filled by bringing support weapons up to 1936 levels. Each research item takes from 100 to 150 days to complete. Some items can be researched earlier than their historical debut but at a huge penalty in time, clogging a slot for over a year.
Regaining the Rhineland is at the top of the German diplomatic national focus tree.
A flashing box alerts players that Germany needs oil and rubber or production will slow. The trade portion of this game is one of the most innovative. Most games’ trade components are complicated, using resources or currency. Hearst of Iron IV cuts to the chase. Currency is a by-product of industry so countries “sell” civilian factories for resources. The trade panel can be filtered by geography and ideology. As most countries need trade in 1936, the only concern is distance with overseas trade requiring convoys shown by lines connecting ports. Resources needed are simply clicked and the system automatically sends the needed amount, more can be bought if players want to stockpile resources.
With the wheels to better economy greased, construction is a priority. Construction can include things like military bases, dock yards, refineries, rocket and radar sites, infrastructure, war factories and civilian factories. Given that the Autobahn focus is not finished and Germany is not at war and has a good infrastructure, new civilian factories are needed for future trade. Clicking on the civilian factory icon shows the German provinces in blue and different shades of green. Blue provinces are at their civilian factory maximum but bars in the green territories indicate more can be built. Clicking on them turns them to yellow; multiple clicks ques up more factories. Other facilities are based in the same fashion.
With industry ready to grow, production of military units is the next concern. The German army starts with 249,000 men in thirty divisions, 36 ships in four ports and 916 aircraft distributed among thirteen air wings. The logistics tab lists shortages in equipment; the existing units are well equipped. The production panel shows the number, type and priority of military equipment with rows of war factories committed to each type. Early in the game, basic infantry weapons have priority and receive many factories. Infantry without artillery are pretty pitiful so artillery should be moved up the list. Horizontal bars show factory efficiency with red marking room for improvement as factories gear up for production. Naval bases produce ships. Given the expense of capital ships and their poor performance in World War I, submarine production deserves a very high priority.
The Recruit and Deployment feature is where players begin to think of the future. Any country can choose a peaceful route but, if players’ feel aggressive or threatened, the military should be increased. Germany has a fair-sized man-power pool so building divisions is a good idea. The types of divisions are infantry, panzer, Waffen SS, Gebirgsjaeger and cavalry. Typical divisions have three brigades with slots for both divisional and brigade support units. Players can use the default template and just train, use the edit function to add, remove or change units later or, with Patch 1.1, create a new default division template. Clicking the infantry bar asks the player where the unit should be deployed; Westfalen is chosen as it is close to the first objective, the Rhineland. “Add a Unit” is clicked twice so three divisions are trained simultaneously. Two panzer units are also trained. Green bars represent training progress.
Divisions can be edited to taste, although it requires XP, which you won’t get until the war begins!
The game can now begin. With hours turning into days using the fourth of five speeds, political points are accumulated at a set rate and ten will allow simple diplomatic action but 150 are needed to fill cabinet positions. In early March, 150 political points are announced with a “Ka-Ching”. The political advisor slots are open with a pane full of choices. Oddly, a democratic reformer and a Communist are included but, for the sake of unity, Schacht is chosen. A few days later, the Autobahn focus is completed and, to further encourage the economy, building the Westwall is the next focus. Research items become completed and new ones chosen in May.
With the Westwall finished, the national focus becomes more aggressive by choosing to reclaim the Rhineland. Units are moved to the border and an army is formed by lassoing several divisions and giving them a commander to counter any French reaction. The officer silhouette at the screen bottom is clicked and a choice of officers appears. To gain army experience for future template additions, a low ranking officer is chosen and told to exercise his men. In June, a message appears declaring that Italy has conquered Ethiopia. Such news prompts Germany to improve relationships with Italy at the cost of ten political points upfront and 0.2 points per day.
This rhythm of focus, appointing adviser and staff, research, production and deployment continues until hostilities break out. Players should keep their eye on manpower, logistics, trade and diplomacy. The game is much easier to play than explain and that’s the reason why no manual exists. The beginners’ guide is little help as is the tutorial scenario. Players must search forums and YouTube for answers. Fortunately, many YouTube videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHSoFCc1ozo. Fascinating as the civilian aspects are, war is equally exciting and will be explained in Part 2.