Saturday, January 30, 2016

PC Game Review: Commander the Great War

I do not usually do pc game reviews, but taking a cue from Gunfreak’s excellent blog and Anatoli's blog, I am going to showcase a bit “Commander the Great War”.  

 When dealing with historical wargames I tend to prefer operational and grand strategy games. I have been looking for good theater/gran strategy game for a long time. I initially tried AGEODS “American Civil War” but the battalion level gameplay quickly turned me off. It just was too detailed for what I wanted. I am big World War I buff (though I do not game it at the miniature table), and I have been looking for a straightforward no frills theater/grand strategic game. Commander the Great War was that game.

This is a hex based game in which you take control of the Entente or the Central Powers. The game covers the European continent as far as the Urals, including North Africa and Mesopotamia as south as the Gulf of Aqaba and as east as western Iran.  You have full control of all the units of the armies in the alliances, and when a neutral state enters the war you gain control of its armies.
The unit level is abstract but feels like each infantry unit represents a corps. Beyond several types of infantry, you can also built other units including artillery, tanks, cavalry, airplanes, zepellins, pre-dreadnought battleships, armored cruisers, dreadnought battleships, light cruisers, and submarines.  
Building units is straightforward. The more cities you control the more economic points you produce which you can use to build units which have to be placed in or adjacent to cities. Cities are either unfortified or fortified.

Unites move either by foot, transported by sea, or by rail ways along the European rail-system. Railway and naval transportation is limited by the rail and transport ship capacity of your state. You can increase that by spending economic points. You also need to spend economic points on shell production as  your artillery can quickly expend its shells.

Beyond building units and increasing your shell ammunition production, and rail and sea transport capacities, you can also research technologies. This is important both for making existing units more efficient (by researching new tactics and doctrines), but also for unlocking units (like tanks, better artillery, etc). All of this is done with a minimum of fuss but creates interesting decisions (will you focus on making your infantry more efficient? Or invest on more exotic weapons (Tanks and Airplanes). Will you focus on naval warfare or land warfare?). Technology and Unit purchase is done by country, not by alliance. You also get free Officers representing historical personalities that can be attached to units and enhance their efficiency and morale.

The only other grand strategic choice you have is to decide whether to declare war to a nation. Neutral nations can become more likely to enter the war against you or on your side largely dependent on who you are at war with, and how well you are doing. You have the option to declare war earlier, and this might be worth doing (for example if you as the Entente wish to use the Netherlands in order to outflank the trench lines, of with the Central Powers to attack Romania before it fully mobilizes).

Austrian wolf-packs

The battle itself is straightforward. You choose a unit, choose an adjacent unit, and attack it. Battle factors are influenced by things such as technological level, terrain, density of trenches (units automatically create trenches when they are in an area for more than one turn, the more they remain in the same area, the deeper the trenches are), the use of airpower to decrease the readiness of units, and final supply. Artillery and air units can make deeper strikes.

Generally speaking the game gives a good sense of the war. In the Western Front, Italian Front, and Serbian front, fronts can become stalemated for long periods until technology permits a breakthrough. The Eastern front on the other hand is one of war of maneuver. As long as units are supported by friendly units they can hold out for long, but the moment a breakthrough is done and they are isolated and cut of from supply they become easier to destroy. Breakthroughs cannot be easily exploited, but the methodic use of small breakthroughs in the only way to open up the Western and Balkan fronts (diplomacy can also work for the last one).

Naval warfare is not different from land warfare with one major exception. Battleships are very powerful and useful units, but their loos creates a massive morale loss for your side. Losing 3-4 battleships in a row will probably kick the owning country out of the war.

The game is one of priorities. You need to decide in which front you will put your primary focus, pour in troops into that, at the same time trying to create a stable defensive line in the other fronts. For the Allies I would say the main thrust should be against Austria. For the Central Powers I would advise a Russia first strategy. Do not be afraid to sacrifice positions in order to pull back to more defensible lines on the secondary fronts.

My only negative points for the game were a) I would had liked more diplomacy options (offering territorial promises for neutrality or entry into the war, ability to choose areas turned over to you at armistices (instead off the on the spot occupation rule) b) I would had preferred if tank, aerial and artillery units were added to infantry, naval, or cavalry units rather than be units of themselves, as I felt that distracted from the epic scope of the game c) Units had more historical designations (you can write names for them, but that is not the same). Overall though this is the kind of game I was looking for. The game has multiplayer and I am looking for time to try it out.

To test the game I played the full scenario (there are several) as the Central Powers. My main criterion for whether a Strategic level WW1 game is good is that if the Central Powers decide on a Russian first Strategy they should have a shot at winning the game. This is what I did. I pulled back in the Western Front behind the Rhine anchoring my line on the Dutch-Switzerland area. 

The Western Front 1915-early 1917

I then moved most forces into the East. The Western Allies were contained in the Western Front from 1914 to 1917. I drove against Russia and after a series of massive battles of encirclement forced the Czar to sue for peace in 1916, when St. Petersburg fell.

The situation in the Eastern Front after Russian Capitulation

The most dangerous situations were in the Ottoman and Balkan Fronts. In the Ottoman front the initial British campaign in Palestine drove all the way up to Damascus before being contained by forces liberated from the Russian front. 
Maximum Entente drive into the Ottoman Empire

In the Balkans the allies were able to overrun Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia, threatening Buda-Pest and Vienna. When the Italians entered the war, the situation became critical, but the Russian capitulation, and a further pull back in the West permitted me to scrap enough forces to hold the alps and push the Serbians back towards the Danube. 

The Italian Front until the breakthrough.

Once the situation stabilized I waited patiently for the Bulgarian entry into the war. Once that happened I also invaded Romania and rolled the Serbian-Allied flank in the Balkans.  In the east I was able to push the British back to the Sinai and then cross it to create a stalemate on the Nile.

The Balkan's after Serbian capitulation.

In the North Sea I mostly stayed in port, simply taking advantage of sallies of the British Fleet to isolate a unit and destroy it with my Dreadnoughts. I did not pursue a submarine warfare much. In the Mediterranean I focused on a submarine campaign which softened up the Italian and French navies. I focused most on technology in infantry efficiency, artillery and airpower. After a number of turns of de-mobilization (to combat war-weariness in Austria and the Ottoman Empire), by 1917 I felt strong enough to attack. I first focused on the Italian front, slowly attacking from the east and the north with the goal of surrounding the allied armies around Trieste and exterminating them. I built a coupled of dreadnoughts for the Austrians and used them to destroy the remaining major units of the Allies in the Mediterranean.  
The Italian front after Italian capitulation 

After pushing the Allies behind Venetia, and having furnished my Western front armies with a couple of railway guns and the German fleet with dreadnoughts, I went on the offensive on the west. A breakthrough was made and I drove to Antwerp and Paris isolating Allied forces. My fleet took advantage off the sally of the British fleet to convoy troops to France to sink three British Battleships in a series of surface and submarine actions. This made Britain capitulate. A turn later France and Italy also capitulated. The last Allied power to capitulate was Portugal. Greece and the US never entered the war.

The breakthrough in the West

Positions in the West after the capitulation of France

1 comment:

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