In a recent review I confessed a prior penchant for reading manuals virtually cover-to-cover before booting up a game for the first time, and how I seldom do that any longer. It isn’t often I find a game nowadays accessible enough not to need one – at least until I want to learn more about this-or-that feature. Then, upon elucidating said aspect, and perhaps running across something else that stimulates a reaction of, “Oh, so that’s why that happened!” I am energised to run back to the game. Whereupon I forget all about the manual again – other than a vow to self about having to read it in order to discover other hidden features.
Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe (SC WiE) is just such a game; accessible enough for the uninitiated (to the wargame genre) as well as sophisticated and deep enough, I would surmise, for most grognards. (I say “surmise” because I actually don’t count myself amongst their august ranks; this way I can get away with all kinds of faux pas that a true groggy would never perpetrate.) It’s also exactly the type of game wherein I envisioned all minutiae being taken over by the computer; no more dice rolling, rules-mongering, and repeated referrals to tables, charts, and rules. Did I mention rules? Although I would hesitantly say that the 200+pp .pdf SC WiE manual is not required reading, in spite of good tooltips, I strongly recommend it; only therein will you learn how Supply affects Morale, which in turn affects Readiness, impacting combat effectiveness… and how HQ attachment can aid in all of this.
Along with the manual, strategy guides for each campaign are included; thus far, five comprise the game: “1939 Storm Over Europe”, “1940 Attack in the West”, “1941 Operation Barbarossa”, “1942 Case Blue”, and “1943 Operation Citadel”. Each starting point can easily be extrapolated, all grunt work having been performed for the player, such as Diplomacy, Research, and Production. Not that this “grunt work” is onerous.
Although the first two features can be handed over to the very competent AI via Advanced Preferences, they are not complicated systems; a limited number of “chits” are invested, at varying cost, to grant or increase the chance of a discovery (in the case of Research), or to diplomatically influence another nation toward your ideology, Allied or Axis. A breakthrough upon acquiring one of five levels of most Research categories triggers either automatic upgrades – as in the case of, say, Command and Control, increasing the number of units attachable to an HQ – or the ability to manually upgrade units’ Infantry Weapons, for example. Successful Diplomacy means targeted country is nudged toward your side; ultimately, it is hoped, joining.
Further options exist to toggle FoW and weather effects, etc., but even prior to all that, one can adjust the difficulty from Green to Expert, where the AI gets penalties or bonuses to its Spotting capabilities, unit Experience, and Military Production Points (MPP), the game’s currency. (Difficulty does not directly affect combat outside units’ Experience and Spotting.)
Control of resources – cities, towns, mines, oilfields, etc. – dictates one’s MPP, which are multiplied by the controlling country’s Industrial Modifier, itself adjusted by the nation’s Mobilisation and possibly the seasonal game-turn (which range from 7-21 days and run consecutively instead of simultaneously). Again, it may sound complicated, but isn’t. Players only need know that ‘cash’ is calculated for them at the end of every turn, made available on the next, to spend on everything mentioned above.
Also included are 22 ‘classes’ of scripted events, each with up to ten scrollable pages, adding up to literally hundreds of occurrences covering everything from convoy activation, annexations and surrenders, to National Decisions regarding whether the U.S.A. should attempt to liberate the U.K. While nearly all are ‘on’ by default (some will be disabled automatically, depending on which side the AI is playing), and although Scripts can be toggled off, I suggest leaving them alone at first. When you’re comfortable with the game and later on perhaps wish, for example, as the Axis to create your own Afrikakorps, instead of allowing the scripted event to trigger half-strength units deploying to a somewhat randomised location in Libya, go for it! (Speaking of which, it would be nice to know about these events beforehand; but that’s a good reason to read the strategy guides: They list all of them, along with possible consequences of Yes/No choices!) As for units themselves, virtually everything WWII is represented, from infantry armies and corps to cavalry, tanks, special forces (e.g., marines and rangers), anti-air, engineers, and artillery, in addition to myriad aircraft and ships too numerous to mention, all historically named (yet can be renamed at will) and replicated by tiny, exquisitely detailed ‘miniatures’.
The supply system in SC WiE is somewhat complex, but fortunately, almost all of it is ‘under the hood’. Again, the player need only keep in mind a few principles, most basic to many similar wargames, such as keeping HQs close, and forces in supply. In essence, Supply influences movement – regulated by Action Points (AP) – as well as a unit’s ability to fully reinforce and upgrade. Terrain penalties are negated by roads, but mud, in turn, cancels their benefit on all but paved roads. Headquarters units distribute supplies, chiefly from railheads, and researching higher levels of Logistics decreases penalties, but while ports similarly extend supply to a certain range out to sea, HQs are only used on land.
The naval game in SC WiE is important and quite interesting; I will not elaborate herein, as I wrote a feature on it not long ago. I can further attest, however, that the sub-hunt in the Atlantic is highly entertaining. Playing as the Axis, I managed to slap Allied convoys silly in a couple of games, gouging them for as many as 118 and 130 MPP! (Out of around 300-400 income per turn each for the U.K./U.S.S.R., that’s gotta hurt; I thought I heard squeals of pain from my computer!) However, eventually subs, like all naval units, run out of supplies and have to run the gauntlet back to port, and ‘luck’ only goes so far…
ALL IN ALL…
I have found – am still finding – Strategic Command very engaging. I’ve yet to win (or lose) a full game – accomplished by occupying various enemy capitals according to the scenario, or sufficiently lowering enemy National Morale – mostly because of what I mentioned above re: going back to the manual and discovering something else. I suddenly lose interest in my current game – due to realising all the mistakes I’ve made! – and so must go back and correct them by starting a new one. Even so, if everything I’ve covered thus far doesn’t demonstrate why, there are many other facets to like about SC WiE, alongside pitiful few quibbles.
At first I didn’t much care for the 3D units – I rarely favour them over NATO counters regardless – but especially so in SC WiE, as I found them hard to make out. Yet I have been won over; they can be difficult to see in certain terrain – which is gorgeous, BTW; more in a bit – but there are three different styles to choose from, plus one can use the Next/Previous hotkeys to ascertain whether any have been overlooked. And they really are nice!
Speaking of hotkeys, though, I would like to see a customisable hotkey option; when accustomed to certain others, it’s at best awkward playing different ones, at worst disastrous! Similarly, I’m accustomed to right-click actions triggering movement and combat, so another option for this would be desirable, not just to bring up a menu of actions (such as Set Mode; used for HQ attachment and subs to go Silent/Hunt, e.g.). Currently, right-clicking on a unit itself is required for the game’s Action Menu (which is already toggle-able in Options), so this should be doable. I’d also like Next/Previous keys to ignore AI-controlled units (each side can turn over control of other major countries to the AI, not just the opposing side, e.g. Italy/Germany, U.K./U.S.A./U.S.S.R.)
I could go on a while longer about SC WiE’s features, including the editor, multiplayer (PBEM or hotseat**), and the very detailed 3D units and geography – the map looks almost 3D itself, inviting one to reach out a feel the texture of mountains and stormy seas! – but I’m nearly at my word limit. Thus, I will approach conclusion by mentioning that canals appear much too wide – broader than major rivers, even! – albeit this is a minor aesthetic issue.
There are only two other aspects that raised my eyebrow a bit, as seeming rather unrealistic. First, units can be attached/detached from HQs willy-nilly; it seems to me there should be some kind of penalty – to Morale and/or Readiness – to do this repeatedly, modelling the fact that rapid changes in command almost always had detrimental effects, at least initially. Perhaps this could be optional, for increased difficulty/realism.
Likewise, I think there should be some mild disincentive to being able to stay at sea at 0 Supply and/or run submarines in Silent mode almost indefinitely (other than almost certain death if found!). When they run out of supplies, I park my subs in the Bay of Biscay for several turns until I take France, then whisk them into port for a fill-up and perhaps an upgrade before sending them out again. Seems a bit… gamey (but I feel guilty about doing it, honest!). Finally, I am a little surprised to see DoWs cost no MPP, unlike other efforts at Diplomacy; but I suppose ‘influencing’ nations is more difficult than simply telling them, “Prepare to die!” So, I guess I can let that one go. I’m not gonna let SC WiE go for a while yet, though.
** At the time of writing, multiplayer is not officially supported in the launch build of Strategic Command. It’s due to be added into the game via a patch within a month of release, however we recommend you keep an eye on the Matrix Forums for further announcements.
This review covers a game developed and/or published by members of the Slitherine Group. Please see our Reviews Policy for more information. Jeff has previously been commissioned by Slitherine/Matrix to write a series of AAR’s based on the game, which have been published over on their forums.