History as a Game Review

As I played a World War Two grand strategy game, I was wondering what if the men who led nations through that conflict were actually playing a game of that conflict that gave them the outcome they historically experienced. How would they praise or complain about the “game” they played? So I decided to write…

NORWAY: I thought this was a fun little nation-building sim and then WTF??? I get invaded by Germany??? I didn’t do anything, and then, suddenly, no warning, I got totally pwned. I got to keep one unit with my new British allies, yay. And why my nation? Sweden’s the one that had all the iron ore! Obviously, the AI in this game is broken, it makes no sense at all.

SWEDEN: Fun little nation-building sim, but kind of boring. I was pretty much just clicking through events and news reports and selling iron to Germany until they surrendered, then I just started selling it to England, lol. I’d recommend waiting for this title to be on sale, with a deep discount before you buy it.

FRANCE: OK, so I only played this one time and maybe I screwed it up real bad, but I wanted to review the game, so here goes. First off, fortifications are useless. Don’t waste your production on building any of them. Next, navies are useless. If your enemies don’t wipe them out, your allies will. No joke, I’m allied with the *British* against the *Germans* and who wipes out my navy? The damn British, that’s who. AND I WAS STILL ALLIED TO THEM!

For some reason, there’s a weird mechanic where I thought I still had tons of land and units in my country and Africa, but it was controlled by the Germans. And, guess what, the Japanese – allies of the Germans, you following me? – ATTACKED MY TERRITORY IN VIETNAM AND KEPT IT!!! WTF??? Alliances are totally broken in this game, since the very definition of an ally is SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT ATTACK YOU IN A WAR. Developers of this game need to get a clue.

Somehow, I was able to use the one division I had in Central Africa and eventually fight my way back to getting my country liberated, that was pretty exciting. But after Germany was wiped out, the USA offered me an alliance against the USSR. Like hell I’m joining another alliance, after what happened! I just signed up for mutual defense and survived to the end of the game in 1948. I think if I played this again, I’d forget buying fortifications and buy tons of infantry and artillery, instead, and then block the border all the way to the English Channel. Probably also guard the Swiss border, in case the Germans decided to invade them, too.

ITALY: The tutorial about conquering Ethiopia was pretty straightforward, or so I thought. I tried attacking Greece and was all like “Hey, what the hell?” All the stuff that worked in Ethiopia – which is pretty much the same exact geography as Greece – totally fell apart in Greece. And then how all those British troops showed up there, I have no clue. I thought they were all busy fighting the Germans. Turns out, they’re all coming in from India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and I’m like all “Whoa, there, what happened to game balance?” How does a tiny island like Britain control half the whole world, tell me that? Total BS.

And then, before I know it, the British are beating my armies up in Libya. Turns out, I had no idea what to do about supplies and the British air force was wiping out my convoys. The Germans showed up to fight in Africa and Greece, so I just turned over control of my armies to the Germans and then quit in 1943 after the Americans came out of nowhere and started invading my country. To hell with that, dude. Dumb game and the tutorials don’t get you ready for the actual game. Do not recommend.

YUGOSLAVIA: Really interesting partisan mechanics. I may have totally screwed up in the conventional war game, what with the Germans totally wiping out my armies, but that partisan mechanic, damn! I liberated my own country in just 3 and a half years, got an in-game achievement for that, too. But I have to wonder, is a game that’s all about partisan uprisings suited for a 4C game? Shouldn’t it be like a FPS with a bunch of connected scenarios? I dunno, I had fun for a while with this, but I wouldn’t buy any expansions. Probably won’t play it again.

HUNGARY: Not a fan of the linear gameplay. I wanted to reform Austria-Hungary and become a great power. Managed to snag a part of Slovakia and Romania and then Germany shows up and says, “Hey, here’s an offer you can’t refuse” and like that, all my armies are fighting and dying on the Eastern Front. Part of the fun of playing a minor nation should be the ability to sandbox interesting things but this game just locks you into choices once the big powers decide it’s time to do things a certain way.

Tried to surrender to the Russians but even that didn’t work. Germany took over my whole country and then the Russians vowed to do the same once their armies cleared out the Germans. Ended the game without any of my territory adds and as a satellite of Russia, which was NOT how I wanted things to go. Game sucks, even worse than World War One. If there’s a third in the series, I don’t want anything to do with it.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA: I just read the review from France and agree 100%, fortifications are useless. Also, the alliance system is broken. I had a big ring of fortifications because I just knew the Germans were going to attack and then I got a deal with Britain and France. I was nodding my head when the French complained about their British allies destroying their fleet because it was those same British that just gave away all my forts to the Germans. There wasn’t anything I could do, I just clicked through the event and watched the forts all change color.

I don’t even know why I bought an army, either, because a few months later, Britain gave MY WHOLE DAMN COUNTRY TO GERMANY. Totally broken alliance system, you will hate hate hate this game if you play as an ally of the British.

POLAND: Alliance system works just fine when it’s the AI ganging up on your country. I thought Nazis and Communists were totally opposed to each other, but apparently the AI still found a way for them to sign a non-aggression pact and a deal to carve up my country. When you get attacked, your allies sit there and do NOTHING USEFUL. AT. ALL. I’m getting slaughtered and France and England are just sitting on their butts. I’m going “a little help here?” and they have all these massive armies and navies and fleets that don’t do jack. Worse, my nation got liberated, but I had zero access to it, once it was liberated. How is that liberated? Seriously. Complete disappointment, no way I’d recommend this game.

SPAIN: Had heard the alliance mechanics were broken, so I never joined a side. Even though I was doing lots of trade from Americans dodging the law to trade with Germany while they were at war with Germany, I didn’t see any big benefits to my economy. After 1945, I suddenly got a bunch of really high experience German generals available. So what am I supposed to do with all those? Can’t start a war without getting tromped by the AI, apparently. Don’t know why the generals show up at that time, but oh well.

IRAN: Didn’t join any alliances and that didn’t help me. Friggin Russia and Britain occupied my country and took over all my oil production. Couldn’t even try to do nation-building stuff at that point, I was just a handsfree spectator at that point, and with a newsreel coming out every week, it was monotonous to click through all those. Didn’t play World War One, have no desire to play World War Three, if it comes out.

JAPAN: Like in most big strategy games, the AI cheats. Except in this one, it cheats so hard, you wonder why you’re even bothering to play at times. Let me tell you what happened.

In the tutorial, I take over Manchuria and set up a puppet regime. Totally easy, learn how to move units and do some basic diplomacy stuff. Yay me for learning. Then the real game starts and I look things over. China has basically zero army and tons of resources, so the math isn’t hard to figure out on that one. Big chunks of the country aren’t even run by China, they’re in the hands of warlords and stuff, with no alliance to China. Easy pickings, right? Wrong. I attack China and suddenly, all those warlords are forming a united front! So I got a war on my hands.

My armies blast through not one, but TWO different Chinese capitals and they’re still not giving up. Meanwhile, over in Europe, the Germans barely brush through Paris and the whole damn French Empire surrenders. Big AI Cheat Number One, if you’re the player, there are different rules about knocking over the enemy capital.

But I’m cool, I kinda expected AI cheating to some extent. I’m running low on resources, but *somehow* Big AI Cheat Number Two means the totally surrounded Chinese – I took ALL their ports – get supplies because their buddies can cross THE FRIGGIN HIMALAYAS. Yes, the worst mountains in the world and trucks and planes go over them, no problem. So the Chinese fight on and I’ve got to stop and get some gas somewhere.

OK, I can get the gas from the Dutch, but their allied to the British, so I have to have a war with the British if I want a war with the Dutch. Then the USA, which isn’t even at war, embargoes ME but not any other belligerent. It’s still trading with the Nazis! Chalk up Big AI Cheat Number Three, the AI will always trade with the other AI, but not you.

So I figure I might as well attack the USA if I’m going to attack the Dutch and the British. I hit pause, plan it all out. I will say that the game has an excellent planning and timing system, I was able to get *every one* of my attacks against those countries to hit at roughly the same time. If you’re playing World War Two and you can’t get your attacks to come off at the right time, you’re just not trying hard enough, in my opinion. That mechanic works like a champ.

So, not to brag, but I totally destroyed the British and USA battleships in the Pacific. I totally conquered Malaya the Philippines and a bunch of islands and all of Indonesia in just a few months. But let me ask this one question – why is it that the Americans didn’t have any of their aircraft carriers in the same port as the battleships? They weren’t at war. They should have been in port, but somehow, someone decided they should be on patrol, somewhere else. Yeah, right. I won’t call it out as a cheat, because it might have just been some random AI pathing thing, but I’m suspicious of it, especially given how those carriers screwed me over later on.

I’m feeling pretty awesome about all this when I then notice that the USA has a bonus effort against fighting me because, according to the game, I hit them with a sneak attack. That is total BS. I sent the declaration of war to hit them an hour before I actually attacked. That’s a douchey move, I admit, but still technically not a sneak attack. And in a game where I can have land, sea, and air attacks all hit at the same time, how is it the diplomatic system doesn’t stack up the same way? Total BS, like I said.

So I try to take out the rest of that USA navy, but it’s like those carriers just magically show up at the worst possible times. I send out an attack to a teensy island to set it up as a base for an invasion of Hawaii, and it’s like the AI *knew* I was sending my whole fleet there. My carriers got mauled and it was pretty much just holding actions for me in the Pacific after that. But that’s Big AI Cheat Number Four: the AI will read your mail and invite itself to your parties.

Big AI Cheat Number Five: Infinite production factories. I have no other way to explain how the USA was able to build so much stuff, so fast. Meanwhile, my home production just putters along… Big AI Cheat Number Six: everyone researches tech faster than you do. I’m trying to update my fighters and infantry tactics for defense, but meanwhile the USA gets strategic bombers, advanced landing craft, and NUKES. YES, FRIGGIN NUKES.

The fact that Russia decided to kick me when I was down after wiping out Germany doesn’t really surprise me, given how the AI just wants to kill you after giving you a too-easy tutorial to set you up for a fall. But after I got nuked twice by the USA, I just accepted their surrender offer and quit. I later checked to see if I was playing the game on a high level of difficulty, but there’s no way to change the difficulty level. That’s a serious flaw I hope the developers fix. That, and all the AI cheating. I’m not sorry for playing the game the way I did and I really think I should have been able to conquer all of Asia, but when the game is broken like that, what can you do?

BRITISH EMPIRE: Fun game, even though so much is broken in it. Let me also say that I also played a lot of the predecessor, World War One. Before I get too far in my review, let me give a thumbs down to the developers for doing so many things in this game that were drastically different from the previous title in the series. Way to alienate all the old-timers, guys.

At the start of the game, it asked me if I supported a peaceful path in Europe or a warlike one. I chose peaceful like I did in World War One and then I find that, apparently, that greys out your “Declare War” option in this game – and for your nation to automatically agree to any demand by an aggressive nation! In the previous title, that just meant I’d defend neutrals that got attacked and stand up against aggression. But in this game, I watched on in horror as Italy grabbed Ethiopia and Albania, Spain went Fascist, Germany picked up Rhineland, Saar, Austria, *all* of Czechoslovakia, and Memel! I was trying to figure out what I could do and FINALLY in mid-1939, after three years of game time, I was able to make an alliance with Poland so that at least I could stop German expansion there. So I thought.

Once the war started, I was trying to figure out how to get the transport mechanic to work and ship soldiers to France. The UI for naval transport is one of those things that really should have stayed the same, as well as the ground and air combat mechanics. I’ll get ahead of myself and say that I totally did not anticipate the changes to those systems and probably should have read the manual or done a tutorial, but there was no warning that the game would be so radically different in this version. Needless to say, my armies and air forces did NOT do well in the opening moves.

While Germany attacking Belgium was such a big deal in World War One, Germany burning through Denmark and Norway and Netherlands BEFORE getting to Belgium is no big deal in this game. Russia cleaned out Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as well. “Neutral” must have changed in meaning between now and when World War One first came out.

So Germany blasts through everything in its path on European soil and I’m seriously worried about an invasion. That’s when I had to hit pause and read up on how to play the game. I know, that’s weak of me to admit that in the eyes of some, but there’s just too much going on in this game to make assumptions. I built up my radars, airfields, and put everything I had into fighter production and development since I already had a pretty big navy and then unpaused.

Good thing I did that, because the Germans then hit me with every plane they had. The Italians also attacked in Africa and Greece, thank goodness I had troops all around the world I could put into action in those theaters because there was no way I could get anything out of England with the massive air war I had going on there. I will say that the AI seemed like it was easy to distract. It never focused on any one thing in my defenses for too long. I thought it was going to knock out my radars and then it would move to hitting my airfields while I repaired the radars. Stuff like that. And then, for no reason, the big attacks pretty much stopped and then the Germans switched over to helping the Italians in Africa and attacking Russia. I don’t know why, but the crazy AI gave me a real breathing space there.

I read up on the naval game and realized I was getting ruined by German submarine fleets, and I didn’t even realize! Once I organized convoys, things got a lot better on that front.

Out of nowhere, Japan attacked my holdings in Asia. Again, nothing at all like World War One, where Japan worked closely as an ally. I lost quite a lot of real estate, but was able to put up a defensive line in India. For about the next year of game time, that’s all I could do on land, defend India and Egypt. I had a few times in Egypt where I almost broke out and conquered Libya, but the AI put up a really good fight there.

Back in Europe, about all I could do was send in strategic bombers. I have mixed feelings about those… on the one hand, they sure look cool, all that flying and bombing. On the other hand, they had a higher attrition rate than my infantry did in World War One and, in spite of all my bombing, German industrial capacity kept *increasing*. What was I doing it for, if there was no net loss to German production?

Once the USA got into the war, things turned for the better, but I kept feeling like I was now playing as a second fiddle to the USA effort. I did hardly anything in the Pacific, and the USA pretty much did all the fighting there. I didn’t attack in Africa until after the USA landed troops there. Every invasion in Europe, I just hopped along with the USA and rode to greatness. I did try one operation on my own in late 1944, but that ended in disaster, so I went back to just following whatever the USA did.

After Germany and Japan went down, I thought, cool, won the game, but it kept going. And then I’m dealing with massive rebellions in Palestine, huge waves of unrest in Africa, and India up and declaring independence. How is it I *won* and then *lose* my empire? When I won World War One, my empire *grew*. As in got bigger. This was another unexpected change in mechanics that I did not find welcome, at all.

RUSSIA: WTF Russia can’t conquer Finland? Yeah, right… and that was some serious messed up stuff with Germany just attacking me out of nowhere. I just built nothing but infantry and tanks for 3 and a half years until I beat Germany, all that other tech is useless. I even built nukes, but the war was over before I had a chance to use them.

But just because I built only tanks and infantry for the whole game doesn’t mean it was boring or anything. Germany put up a hell of a fight, that was some great AI for the first 2 years of the war, then it seemed to break down and just defend in place anywhere. No fluid battles anymore, like at first. It was a lot easier to fight at the end, got kinda boring. And then at the end I just smoked through Japan, no more challenge after that. I thought of attacking the USA and its allies, but I was able to see all the stuff they had. The words “serious game imbalance” had new meaning after I saw all the stuff the USA was pumping out. No thank you, not going to try to conquer the world if it means going up against THAT.

GERMANY: The tutorials, such as they were, went pretty well. Rhineland tutorial to teach about movement. Spanish Civil War tutorial to teach a little combat and to introduce to the air system. “Evade Versailles” showed me how to do production and the Anschluss/Sudetenland scenarios got me introduced to the diplomatic system.

So why was there no naval tutorial? I totally screwed up my surface navy. I lost one battleship out by Uruguay because I had no idea how to order ships properly and another because, apparently, nobody told me I needed to have air cover for my ships. I just gave up on those ships and pumped out tons of subs. Of course, having a navy is kind of a must-have if you’re at war with the English, since they’re on an *island*.

Overall, the first part of my game was a pretty good run. I didn’t think it was too hard or too easy. And then I attacked Russia. In hindsight, if I wasn’t on Ironman mode, I could have beaten them. But, no going back to old saves means I have the game I have. I was OK with that and had some ideas about how to beat Russia when the WORST “feature” of the game hit me hard.

There SERIOUSLY has to be a confirmation for major decisions, especially with all the event spam that happens in the game. Here’s what I mean: Japan attacks the USA and all these pop-ups fire because Japan has also attacked the nations I’m at war with. Lots and lots of pop-ups. What do you do with a lot of pop-ups? You hold down the Enter key and clear them all, that’s what.

Well, one of those was “Japan is at war with the USA. Do you want to declare war on the USA? (Y/N)” Enter for that one was Y and there was ZERO confirmation, so I was suddenly at war with the USA because spam. Are you kidding me? That was total suicide! I was already at war with Russia, hadn’t yet finished off the British, so like hell I need the USA to be involved in my corner of the world.

Suddenly, it’s the USA, all over the world. What’s blowing up my subs? Destroyers from the USA. What’s resupplying the Russian army? Tanks and trucks from the USA. Who’s that bombing my cities alongside the British? Why, it’s the USAAF. Who just landed on North Africa and flipped ALL of the Vichy French territory to Free French? The USA, that’s who.

Side note – the French factions have some serious code bugs. They are flip-flopping way too easily. I was happy to conquer France, but I’d played World War One, and they put up way more fight in that game than in this one. I think Italy has the same code bug, since they flipped as soon as Allied troops landed on their territory.

Once I was getting squeezed by Russia and the USA, I figured it was pretty much over. I tried to hold them off, but eventually the inevitable happened and my nation fell. And then a funny thing happened. I let the game just run and went to go get something to eat. When I came back, I had expected Russia and the USA to be at war with each other, but for some reason, I had my country back again, about half of it, and the USA had rebuilt all my industry. Craziest thing. I thought I had lost, but “losing” in this game for some reason meant changing flags and having to be in an alliance with the USA. Alliance with the USA meant no more getting beat up by the Russians. Surprising end to the game, to say the least.

USA: For some reason, I could only pick December 1941 as the earliest start date. And then, first thing that happens is I lose every island in the Pacific except Hawaii, but I lose almost my entire Pacific surface fleet. I was bummed about that at first, but then I decided to screw the battleships and pump out carriers and planes. That did the trick. Naval game is pretty easy once you figure that part out.

Dealing with Japan was pretty easy, since I had foreknowledge of where they were moving their fleets. That makes blowing them up pretty easy. I felt that the whole time the game was on “Easy” mode and, frankly, I could have used more of a challenge. As it was, I just had two different groups plow across the Pacific, taking back islands. I had a lot of casualties, but the Japanese had more. Once I got bomber bases set up, it was pretty much over for Japan.

Same with Germany. I just ordered armies to push across the top of Africa, up Italy, and down into France. There really wasn’t a lot of maneuvering around because the terrain was either so narrow or I just had so many units to move that a frontal assault was the easiest thing to do. Not a lot of challenge, there, either.

And if it wasn’t easy enough, I didn’t have to invade Japan to defeat it. Hey, presto, I got nukes at the end. Nukes! I already had tons of industry, a huge army, tons of planes, so, of course I also needed to have nukes. I guess the nukes really brought the room together or something.

At the end, I had so much spare industrial capacity, I just rebuilt everything I’d bombed out in the war, lol. I still kept pumping out tons of units because I could. It was like there was no end to all the military stuff I could buy, even though I had no idea what to use it for.

The game was only a little harder to figure out than World War One. I had a good time with it. Maybe one day, I’ll be up for World War Three, when it’s ready for a release. I may want to try some smaller games before that, but I’m up for it, sure.

One thought on “History as a Game Review

  1. Rita Webb

    Really clever! You come at these wargames with almost 41 years of experience. Keep up the good work.

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