I purchased this game over the weekend and had a blast playing it. I think it has extremely high potential for an amazing sequel that could very well revolutionize operational level war games. As it currently stands, the game is fun but unfortunately has little replay value.
What I really liked:
1. The supply system. It is both simple and elegant, a rarity in war games. It is often not necessary to directly encircle enemy units, but instead to simply cut their lines of supply at a railroad or a bridgehead. I just love the supply system in this game.
2. Emphasis on operational-level warfare. No need to think about how many Panthers vs Panzer IVs to build, or the number of AT guns per infantry division, or anything strategic like that. I also don’t need to be bogged down at the tactical level either, like planning how a panzer company might engage some Russian tanks. This game is perfect with the player as an Army/Army Group level commander.
3. Easy to learn. I suspect even new players can achieve victories on most of the maps, maybe even decisive on a couple of them. Brilliant victories often require both great skill and good luck.
Concepts I liked but could use some improvement:
1. Specialist battalions. However, some (such as the pionieres) are a lot better than other (88 flak). Others like the recon unit have a ridiculous amount of attack, but its recon ability is less than useful. This should be reexamined, but the basic idea is sound.
2. Experience has a very noticeable impact on combat performance. Elite units might be a little too good, because you can’t really wear them out with mass attacks as should be possible (see below).
3. Air power’s abstraction. However, the air combat system can be improved (see below).
4. Requesting reserves from High Command using prestige. Ideally prestige would have more uses.
Things I disliked:
1. The ridiculous power of the German panzer divisions, especially the elite ones. It’s one thing to be overrunning green Soviet infantry divisions, or even their regular ones. But I regularly attacked complete Soviet tank corps without losses, and this is after I overran nearby infantry division. Basically all the German mobile divisions can slaughter any Russian formations without fear of suffering losses. The only threat is if the Soviets somehow manage to cut off supplies.
This problem is most evident in the scenario Kuibyshev. Somehow, with about 5 or 6 motorized divisions, I could advance all the way from Stalingrad to the Soviet reserve capital, face and destroy maybe 4 or 5 times the number of Soviet troops, all without taking any losses to my panzers. This couldn’t happen even in the wildest dreams of the most optimistic German commander.
What also bugged me was how powerful panzer divisions were in terrain like forests and even cities. For Stalingrad, I just drove my elite panzers up to the city, then blasted away the infantry inside without taking any step losses. Highly unrealistic.
2. The puzzle-like nature of the scenarios. Since you are given the forces at the start, the only thing you can do is to spend prestige requesting reinforcements (predetermined) from High Command.
Basically once you’ve won a brilliant victory (which often requires luck) there’s no incentive to play the scenarios again. The AI behaves similarly in each scenario, and there isn’t anything new to do in a scenario if you want to achieve brilliant victory. It forces the player to come up with “the” way to solve a map, which is less enjoyable for me.
What I would love to see in a sequel:
This game is great, and I hope the creators have a lot of financial success, so they can plan a more ambitious sequel. Right now there is a distressing lack of easy-to-learn, hard-to-master war games at the operational level. This series has great potential.
1. An emphasis on battles a bit more modest in scale, maybe about half the current scale. So for instance, each turn would be 2 days, and each hex might be 5 or 7 km across. Have most scenarios be longer, so even a brilliant victory might require about 10 turns on average. In fact, have brilliant victory not necessarily tied to taking objectives ASAP (see more below).
2. Have units that carry over from battle to battle in a campaign. This way, a player’s losses each scenario are not negligible. It’s not only important for the Germans to advance quickly, but also for them to preserve as much of their strength as possible without getting bogged down in street fighting or other static positional combat.
For instance, if Army Group A lost too many units taking Maikop, it’s hard to see how it can press on further into the Caucuses.
There should be some limited ability for a player to decide how many units he wants to send to a separate front of the war. One example is after taking Rostov by the Germans in 1942. High Command has already decided to attack both Stalingrad and the Caucuses, nothing the player can do about that. But the player might decide to place the main emphasis on Army Group A at the expense of the 6th Army driving towards Stalingrad or vice versa. This might involve the transfer of one or two corps. So an extra strong Army Group A could potentially take Baku, but then in November a weakened 6th Army outside of Stalingrad would have to hold back Operation Uranus and try to stave off the destruction of all German troops in the Caucuses.
Ideally, it would also be possible to have the AI’s troop levels be tied from one scenario to another. For instance, if the AI recklessly attacks in Voronezh, they will have fewer troops for the next scenario (Fall Blau). That way, the AI can’t just throw their divisions away pointlessly. But as the Soviets, having the AI make aggressive counterattacks even while taking heavy losses is both historical and an effective strategy. This should apply especially towards critical objectives, say at Stalingrad, or in the Caucuses. After all, the Russians won mainly by attrition.
I can see how this might be difficult to balance, but it would be highly worthwhile. The Soviets historically reformed army after army. For instance, up at Leningrad, the 2nd Shock Army was destroyed twice in two disastrous offensives in 1942, yet it was reformed after each battle.
This creates more opportunities for strategy. Victory conditions for one scenario (ex. Fall Blau) may involve taking objectives very quickly. Another might involve saving as many troops as possible (German withdrawal from the Caucuses). Yet another could be to inflict as much damage on the Soviets as possible (Kharkov43). Or some combination of all three.
3. Implement a combat penalty to units out of supply, increasing in severity with each level. Right now, until a unit is completely out of supply, there’s no bonus to attacking. And 3 turns in a lot in a game with scenarios usually lasting only 10 turns (and far fewer for brilliant victories).
4. Rework combat to be less lethal. It should be harder to completely destroy Red Army formations with 0 losses. Instead, combat should have two types of suppression, permanent and temporary.
Permanent suppression represents “shattered” elements of a formation that can’t be reorganized until the next battle in the current campaign. Temporary suppression represents either routed or exhausted troops. It should work as it does currently, and a formation can recover some per turn as long as it is in supply.
Basically, what I would like to see is that powerful mobile formations can be used to thrust deep into the enemy’s rear without spending a lot of time getting bogged down and engaging enemy infantry. Once the enemy is out of supply, then you can decide either to wait to get maximum combat bonuses, or to attack sooner but incur heavier losses. Right now, the AI is very good at redeploying troops to block my advance, which often isn’t a problem because I just blast away with my elite troops and can clear them
all out without issue.
Especially important is to implement more suppression (both temporary and permanent) for each battle. That way, the Soviets especially can wear out and rout a German formation by repeated attacks, even if it costs them heavy losses. The routed German division, unless completely surrounded, should be allowed to retreat, but it could end up with significant losses and a good amount of permanent suppression and would be out of the current battle and only available for use in the next.
One good example is what happened to the 8th Panzer Division during the battle of Soltosy in Army Group North in 1941. It was encircled, and only after difficult fighting could it escape, and the division took some time to recuperate. The Soviets suffered huge losses in the attack, but it was worth it as it inflicted significant damage on one of Germany’s mobile formations.
I would prefer to see a lot more AI formations lost in a battle to the way of “permanent suppression,’ so they can be available for use next battle in the campaign. Those tightly encircled or completely destroyed outright (which should be rare unless fighting in a place like Stalingrad) would not be available for subsequent use however.
Units that are only loosely encircled, or those that can easily escape towards supply hexes, can move and be ready to fight in the next battle. Often in the war during 1941-1942 the German panzers easily outmaneuvered and encircled large Russian formations, but the slow moving infantry couldn’t close the net quick enough, allowing many of the trapped Russians to escape.
5. Shattered or badly damaged divisions should be allowed to refit. This admittedly is more for a game that has a larger scope, but could be appropriate nonetheless. The Germans could send a badly mauled Panzer Division back to Germany for a refit so it could be used again in a couple of months. This feature is much more important for the Soviets, as they would have a much, much faster time reforming shattered divisions, some could be pulled back and potentially be ready for use in a few weeks.
6. The strength system should calculate battles with a fractional step system. For instance, a 10 step Panzer Division can wipe out a green 10 step Russian infantry, but might take 0.3 steps in losses and 2.5 steps in temporary suppression (exhausted troops). The exact numbers should be tweaked carefully to make sure combat is more realistic.
7. Air combat should be expanded, but not by too much. The most important things are to include airfields, and thus realistic air ranges, and to implement a fighter system that could interfere with air supply and ground support missions.
8. Prestige should have more uses. Perhaps it can be used to request additional logistics support or air support (if available from OKH reserve). It should also be used to access special battles. The classic example is Guderian’s proposal to attack Moscow in August 1941, although whether it would’ve worked will be debated endlessly. Another good example might be allowing Manstein to do his “backhand blow” after Kharkov43, or even to press the attack after Prokhorovka during Kursk.
9. Fog of War needs to be implemented. It is highly unrealistic and also detrimental to gameplay to know exactly where all the units are on the map. Reconnaissance, by both air and by divisions with specialized reconnaissance battalions, should be critical to success. There should be, depending on the scenario, some limited information on the opposing side’s units and their general deployment, given in the briefing.
10. Perhaps expand the supply system slightly. Have each supply source have a limit to the number of divisions it can support. This would make logistics more interesting and realistic.
Way I Envision a Sequel.
The Germans have a significant advantage in terms of mobility and the combat power of its elite formation in 1941-1942. Its panzer divisions can encircle Soviet divisions with ease, although destroying them should require the use of infantry divisions and could be costly unless the Soviets have been encircled for some time. The Germans have to both advance quickly and preserve the strength of their armies.
From 1943, the Germans are usually on the defensive, although local counterattacks are possible and could still be very successful. The key here is to preserve troop strength while holding onto objectives for as long as possible. Abandoning objectives ahead of time could lead to a loss of prestige or even dismissal from High Command (loss). But holding onto an objective at all costs, as was sometimes done historically, could be an absolute disaster too. This would make the later war interesting.
The reserve should be true for the Soviets. In 1941 and 1942 the Soviets should not just be allowed to run away at all times and preserve their troop strength too much, as the premature loss of objectives would be unacceptable to High Command and would lead to a dismissal or a loss in prestige. From mid-1943, the Soviets are on the offensive, and it becomes more of a race against time.
The Soviets especially should have a significant advantage in the number of available and also reserve units they can call upon, even if most Soviet formations are less powerful than their German counterparts. The Soviets should be allowed to sustain significantly higher losses during the campaign. The number of reserves that I can call upon for the Soviet scenarios is often lacking. Attrition won them the war historically, but a skillful commander might be able to accomplish the same results with fewer losses, ending the war faster.
Reserves can be requested from High Command either to assist with a breakthrough or during critical moments in a battle. If the battle is going poorly and requesting an extra panzer division could prevent the destruction of an entire army, then it is surely worth it. Or if the battle hangs in the balance, and an extra division or two could achieve that critical breakthrough, then it could also be worthwhile.
Prestige can be expended for more than requesting reinforcements. Especially great is if it could be used to access special battles. That way, elite players will have to do more and more with less and less.
All of this has to be done while watching the supply lines, which I think is more or less perfect the way it is currently. Sometimes it might be wise to send a unit ahead to try to cut the supply line, like the Tatsinskaya tank raid. But sometimes it might not be, as the loss of the unit may not be worth it in the end.
For those of you still reading, II hope writing this wall of text demonstrates that I greatly enjoyed the game, hence my very long wish list. Of the games I’ve played, I think this has the highest potential to create the best operational-level game engine for WWII ever.