Strategic Command WWI 1914-1918 The Great War


posted 4/8/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
World War 1 doesn't get much love from gamers.  It has the reputation of being a prolonged meat grinder of a war, with armies grinding against each other along static lines for years at a time.  World War 2 is much sexier with fluid fronts, tank battles and air wars to be enjoyed.  So why would anybody make a game around WW1?

It turns out the standard view of the war is not how the war started out, and only it ended up stalemated due to historical contingencies.  At the start of the war it was far from clear which way things would go.  The Germans were able to advance rapidly in the early days, coming to within the outskirts of Paris in about a month.  There was no reason to think that this war would be less mobile than, say, the Napoleonic conflicts.

And that was the problem - the military heads of Europe were intent on fighting the last war with this war's technology.  This did not go well, as massed infantry assaults worked poorly against barbed wire, trenches, and artillery.  When Russia entered the war against Germany, she dug in on the Western Front and let the Entente bleed themselves to death in trench-to-trench warfare.

"Strategic Command - World War 1" (SCWW1) gives you the chance to change all this.  As the ruler of one of the major coalitions - Entente or Central Powers - you have the opportunity to do things differently.  Fans of the Central Powers will be able to execute the Schlieffen Plan the right way this time, while Entente players will try to keep Russia from leaving the war part-way through.

The game, to be honest, looks like a throwback to the 80's.  The units are sprites and they sit on solid-colored bases which rest on a bland, 2D map with washed-out colors and pixellation everywhere.  The graphical presentation looks like "Civilization 1.5" or nearby.  It is not ugly, per se, but it is not attractive, either.  The whole aesthetic hearkens back to the earliest computer wargames, which were thin ports of hex-based board games.

This throwback mentality carries through to all the facets of the game.  SCWW1 is turn-based (of course) and is played out on a square (not hexagonal) grid.  Every unit has a strength (which depends on size, morale, tech level and other factors) and combat modes (infantry attack adjacent units, artillery can bombard, subs sink shipping, etc.) and the player is in charge of deploying their units to achieve maximum combat effectiveness.  It is very standard stuff, using mechanics from a long line of games before it.

When evaluated strictly as an engine for simulating large-scale combat in WW1, SCWW1 does an acceptable job.  To some extent WW1 combat is like WW2 combat but simpler, so there is not much room for flash here.  No one will like or hate this game based on the combat rules.

The important mechanisms are the ones that allow your nations to build and support your armed forces.  There are two basic values that impact your nations' ability to wage war: Military Production Points (MPP) and National Morale (NM).

Of the two, MPPs have more impact on day-to-day operations.  An MPP represents an abstraction of the material basis of warfare - the bullets, food, oil and other material resources your army needs - and this value depends on  the resource sites you control, the efficiency of your industry, and the split between civilian and military production.  Almost everything you do costs MPPs directly or indirectly.

The most obvious MPP cost is building and reinforcing units.  The usual infantry, cavalry and ships are here, along with the more exotic Zeppelins and railroad artillery among others.  The player will want to balance their purchases carefully, lest they fall into the historical trap of trench warfare accidentally.  There are never enough MPPs to build and reinforce units, and yet other things cost MPPs, too.

MPPs can also be spent on research.  In the real world, WW1 ended as much because of advances in technology and its use as war exhaustion.  You will want your coalition to be the first with tanks and poison gas and strategic bombers and the other weapons needed to break the stalemate.  Of course, if you spend too much on research then your current army will be weakened.

Diplomacy also relies on MPPs.  It is important for both sides to sway neutrals such as Holland and Norway as Germany needs their resources and the Entente wants to starve Germany.  This is a somewhat underdeveloped portion of the game, but a patient player can turn the war in their favor through adept diplomacy.

All the MPPs in the world do not matter, however, if your people do not want to fight.  Individual units have morale, but so does your entire nation.  Certain places on the map are important to your people - Konigsberg is important to the Germans, for example, while Warsaw is treasured by the Russians.  When the enemy captures these locations, the NM value of the losing nation goes down and the NM of the winning nation goes up.  The same thing can happen when resource locations are taken, or convoys are raided, or when certain game events fire.  If the NM of a nation goes down far enough (to 1% or so) that nation may surrender.  Since NM goes up or down every turn for every important place taken it is important not to let the enemy hold them for too long.

When put together, the non-military components do a good job of forcing the player to make important decisions.  There are never enough MPPs to go around, and National Morale can force sub-optimal courses of action simply to keep the nation fighting.  The economic, technological and diplomatic components put the "Grand" in the "Grand Stratgic".

In summary, "Strategic Command - World War 1" is, despite a retro-looking interface, a decent game covering WW1 at the grand strategic level.  It plays more like a wargame than an economic simulation, but it does a good job of making sure the player pays attention to both aspects.  There is nothing great here, but this is a solid game set in an under-appreciated conflict.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

If you like turn-based, hex-based, strategy-heavy wargames this one will fit like an old shoe. If you don't there is nothing here to warrant giving it a try.