Strategic Command is not a series that concentrates on the modeling tank interiors, on resource-supply chains involved in the production of Mausers and Garands, or even how your supplies, ammo, and oil are transported. Horse-drawn carts via country roads, motor pools on highways, railroads and depots… It simplifies everything to the level of a board game and allows the player to move and conquer with minimal thought on everything else aside from where to attack and what units to build. It’s a game about marshalling your armies and making best use of your national resources to overcome the enemy.
These games serve a market that just wants to sit down and play some turns of conquer the world. Of course, It does go much deeper than that; at the end of the day you are still required to know it through-and-through. How to save a turn, when and where to move your bombers for, and in what order to attack which choke point. The series has evolved since its early days but Strategic Command WW2: Global Conflict, now re-released under the Strategic Command Classic brand, makes the exercise of concise planning an art.
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth pointing out again: Strategic Command Classic: Global Conflict is not a new release. It is simply a re-release. True, it contains both the Assault on Democracy and Assault on Communism DLCs bundled in, but none of these have received anything extra apart from a compatibility update for Windows 10. The last decent patch was made back in 2011, so don’t expect a new or updated game to play around with. If you already owned the Battlefront version, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Interfaces of old
I must confess: I do not read manuals. This is a sentiment that’s probably shared by many of the new generation of wargamers today. Nowadays interface tends to drive the purpose of the manual, giving tips on what the buttons do, what you can do where and with what, and how the game functions in general. In Global Conflict this is not the case. It’s an old game with the old outlook; to understand the nuances of the interface you need to read the manual. Sure, there’s tips and hints, but you need to peruse to see what they mean.
It’s the little things that often let this game down; I can choose my tactical bomber unit and see where it can move, but there’s no overlay showing which grids it can actually bomb. Want to know how research affects the game? Read the manual. Want to know what events are upcoming and what their effect is? Read the manual or play through the game a few times. There’s a section of wargamers who love reading highly detailed manuals… but it’s not for everyone.
That aside, the game functions quite well and there aren’t too many buttons with unknown features. Declaring war, investing in research and diplomacy, building units or placing them is easily done via the buttons provided. The map will always form the central view, and things like national morale, available production points, and manpower pools are shown up on the sidelines. The interface isn’t especially intuitive but otherwise, it suits its purpose.
Strategic level operational warfare
Military production points are gathered from resource centers, these being anything from cities and ports, to oil fields and mines. They are then used to reinforce units, buy new units, or to invest in technology and diplomacy. Investing in new weapons or diplomats doesn’t automatically lead to new inventions or allies; instead, they simply increase the chance of getting the desired result. Though this makes the system a bit random it is in some ways preferable to games where you will know that you will gain a new tech or breakthrough if you simply make it so. Invention was never a simple matter of spending days painting the right picture from the off; you doodled ideas until you found a working one.
Units are named armies, corps, fleets, squadrons and so on; though the naming convention is there just to add flavour. In effect, they are pieces with different strengths, weaknesses and uses that you move around the map. Artillery will bombard from afar, as do bombers; tanks will attack twice and cover more ground, whereas armies and corps are the cheap pawns that form the line and take the beating. The combat system shares a common ancestry with rock-paper-scissors.
Unfortunately, the two add-ons detract from what makes the flow of this game work. Adding more units and depth means that the original well-functioning system can break down. You can’t present tactical or even operational level battles in a game that’s all about the grand-strategy of the war, as Assault on Communism tries. In its day, this game would have been a contemporary of the earlier Hearts of Iron games.
Never-the-less, the AI does a good job dealing with all of this. It doesn’t give any big strategic surprises nor make terrible mistakes turn after turn. Even if you can’t get a PBEM game going (not sure if the scene will revive with this re-release), you can still get a nice challenge.
Plenty of scenarios to choose from
The base game and the two add-ons offer plenty of play value. You have scenarios for every year, including alternative history set-ups, as well as the basic ones covering the whole war. I found the Alliance of Evil quite an interesting one and prefer it over any of the standard set. There’s plenty of variance with ample possibilities for different gaming styles. If you’re tired of the basic Axis gauntlet you can choose one where your hands aren’t so tied. Or simply design your own with the editor.
The game once had quite an active modder base, with plenty of scenarios and graphics on offer. It will be interesting to see if any of that makes a come-back.
Choke points and perfect moves
My biggest gripe with the game is the eventual choke points. Flood into Manchuria and on to the Korean peninsula with the Red Army, and you will have one unit attacking the Japanese army entrenched there. Due to scale, it’s a one grid battlespace. To dislodge and defeat it you need to reduce the unit to zero strength. But with just one unit attacking this is never going to happen. So, you need bombers, artillery or naval units to weaken the enemy. If the unit is sitting in a city, it is considered to be in the best possible supply situation and can reinforce to full strength each turn. There’s no lack of such choke points on the map.
This often leads to situations where you have to make perfect moves and plan them well in advance. One wrong dice roll, and your army will be stuck. Since combat almost always comes with losses this means that if you don’t immediately defeat the enemy you are fighting a losing battle. If your bombers can’t reach the unit you need to waste another turn moving them. It all stacks up. This is infuriating when you are fighting against time as the Axis. Not so much for Allies who can afford to wage wars of attrition, and take their time advancing.
Cash Rules Everything Around Me
Each turn you gather MPPs – Military Production Points. The Allies will always gather more of them, therefore (and especially early on), the Axis player needs to concentrate on the Blitzkrieg. Capture the capital and you get to plunder plenty of points, and at the same time you make sure all those enemy units disappear as extra losses without you having to fight them. Get stuck in attritional warfare and the outcome is quite clear.
At the end of the day, this is what most of your decisions are based on, no matter which side you are playing. It’s of course not too far from reality, and what else would the case be anyway? Once again you need to think carefully about what you are going to do, as falling behind the curve by spending points you should have saved can doom your game several turns later.
Convoys and strategic bombing add some complexity here. The Axis need to protect their vital resource routes from Scandinavia. The Allies in turn have to hunt the Axis raiders running wild. Here too all moves count, and nothing comes for free. Sunk subs cost money as do downed bombers. If they don’t cause enough damage you’re simply giving the opponent more cards to play with.
Though the research system is well done, the advantages of it fall back into mathematical formulas. One more level means better values and modifiers. More money, more costs, more attack strength, better defense values, longer range, and so on. Fall behind and you will see the difference eventually, save a penny and you need to pay it back in reinforcement costs. Research the wrong thing and get no benefits. Buyer Beware.
The Forever War
Unlike the first Classic re-release – which looked at WW1 – Global Conflict’s WW2 has been covered in the more recent Strategic Command WW2: War in Europe. While it only spans the European Theatre, given what we’ve mentioned above this is more of a help than a hindrance. Really, this release isn’t intended for new players to jump in and giving the asking price we’d probably say skip this unless you see it on sale. If we’re talking full-priced games War in Europe is currently the better buy, but it’s good to see a classic such as this preserved for current owners.