Computer Game Review: ‘Strategic Command WWII: World at War’

Main menu screen from Strategic Command WWII: World at War © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Challenge of Command

As we enter the sixth month of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the third month of living with social distancing and an economic lockdown, I have found ways to keep myself occupied and not go “stir crazy.” As a writer and blogger, I usually spend my waking hours at my desk, writing posts for my two blogs or – less frequently – trying to come up with ideas for future screenplays or even that novel I aspire to write (but have avoided working on). So far, I have managed to stick to my writing routine without fail, although I have to admit that I haven’t quite been able to write new material for the original Blogger version of A Certain Point of View since May 10.

Of course, as much as I love writing, I don’t spend every minute of every day doing that (even though it sometimes seems that way). I have other interests and  hobbies, and I enjoy a variety of activities to relax and keep from getting burned out or even (God forbid) bored. These include fun and entertaining activities such as:

  • Watching my favorite movies and episodes of classic TV shows and miniseries on Blu-ray and DVD
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Spending time on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when I can use the Internet
  • Gaming
A “sneak preview” video about Strategic Command WWII: World at War by the popular YouTube war game enthusiast thehistoricalgamer.

I have played computer games since I acquired my first personal computer – an Apple IIe – in 1987. With rare exceptions, such as Epyx Games’ Street Soccer or LucasArts Games’ Star Wars: X-Wing, most of the games I own tend to be from the strategy/war games genre. Some, like the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, aren’t focused solely on armed conflict, even though they do feature wars of conquest and the evolution of military hardware through the ages as an integral part of gameplay. Others, such as the Hearts of Iron series, Civil War II, Order of Battle: World War II, and Battle Academy are straightforward military-themed strategy games.

Currently, the game that I’ve played the most during the “corona” pandemic is Strategic Command WWII: World at War, a grand strategy game that allows players to take command of either the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) or the Allies (China, the British Empire (including Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand), France, Poland, the Soviet Union, and the United States) in a conflict that takes place in various theaters around the globe. A rebooted version of a classic game in the Strategic Command series, World at War is a fun beer-and-pretzels game that challenges armchair generals to refight the greatest war in history – and even change its outcome!

The Game

Developed by Toronto-based Fury Software for Matrix, Strategic Command WWII: World at War (or WAW) is part of the rebooted Strategic Command series that includes Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe, Strategic Command Classic: Global Conflict, and 2019’s Strategic Command: World War I.  Fury created this long-running series in the late 1990s, publishing its original game, Strategic Command: European Theater in 2002 through Battlefront.  Released in December of 2018, WAW is the fifth game in the series and it was designed by Hubert Cater and Bill Runacre, Fury Software’s president/lead developer and lead designer, respectively.  

As mentioned above, the game lets you take command of either the Axis powers or the Allies during the Second World War. You can play  Strategic Command WWII: World at War in several modes:

  • As a solo game against the game’s artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Against a human opponent, either remotely (Play-by-Email or PBEM) or by taking turns on the same computer (the “hotseat” method)

In either option, you can directly command all of your coalition’s forces, or delegate command of one or more of your countries to the game’s AI. (I recommend this option for novice players; commanding the armies of one country, such as the Soviet Union or Japan, is difficult enough; trying to make decisions for two or more major belligerents in a global conflict is much harder.

A screenshot from the late stage of 1944 Triumph and Tragedy, the only scenario that I have successfully played through. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd. 

 Strategic Command WWII: World at War is turn-based, which means that one coalition – usually the Axis, who were the aggressor states during World War II – starts one of the game’s campaigns. A turn usually involves a set of decisions you must make, such as deciding how to spend the in-game currency (military production points, or MPPs) – buying new units or improving existing ones, investing in research and development (R&D), or using MPPs to fund your country’s diplomatic efforts to sway neutral powers to join your coalition – or where your armed forces will either attack or defend. After you’ve spent your MPPs and made all of your combat moves, you end your turn. The computer then calculates how your armies, air forces, and navies are resupplied, your nation collect its income – which increases as a result of your territorial gains but can be adversely affected by enemy moves such as interdiction of your shipping lanes (convoy routes) or strategic bombing. Then your opponent – another human or the AI – gets his initial supplies and income, and you have to watch his coalition’s ripostes on the battlefield.

In addition to the Axis and Allied coalitions, Strategic Command WWII: World at War includes minor powers that are (like Spain, Switzerland, or Sweden) neutral or are (like Hungary and Romania) co-belligerents that join either alliance depending on various factors, including political leanings, diplomacy by the major powers, or invasions of their territory by either side. The AI controls these minor powers, and while at times it seems as though the game designers put in them in the game as mere window dressing, they can often be force multipliers that can make or break a player’s war aims.

It goes without saying that Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a map-based game that uses counters – either 3D “sprites” or NATO unit symbols – that represent various types of military units. These counters show:

  • Air force units of different types – interceptors, ground-attack, and light, medium and heavy (strategic) bombers
  • Land warfare units – infantry, armor (tanks), mechanized infantry, horse cavalry, anti-tank artillery, artillery (different types), airborne, special forces (Commandos, Brandenbergs), garrisons, and engineers
  • Naval units – capital ships (battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers), escorts (escort carriers or “baby flattops”, light cruisers, destroyers), torpedo boats, and submarines

Each nation starts the war on the start date of the European War – the Asia-Pacific War is already underway, with Japanese forces already fighting in China – with its armed forces deployed in a simplified rendition of the historical “balance of power” in the late summer of 1939. Each nation’s units reflect the tech level at which they start the war – Germany, for instance, enters the war with He-111 and Do-17 medium bombers as their main “strategic” air force, while Me-109s and Stuka dive bombers represent interceptors and ground attack units. As the war progresses and if Germany invests heavily on R&D, players can upgrade these units; if the tech levels are high enough, the plane units then “morph” into more modern types, such as the He-177 long range bomber and the Me-262 jet fighter. In theory, investing MPPs into R&D and industrial upgrades gives every major power the ability to improve its military capabilities; I’ve seen both sides developing jet fighters by the late stages of a game, but players have to be gutsy enough to divert MPPs from buying units and invest them in other areas of the war effort.

Campaigns and Scenarios

The promo trailer from Matrix Games

Strategic Command WWII: World at War contains several major campaigns and scenarios, each with a specific starting date and unique victory conditions.  I have the following campaigns and officially-released modifications (or mods) that are present at this time:

  •   1939 World at War  (1 September 1939)
  • 1942 Axis High Tide (4 June 1942)
  • 1943 Allies Turn the Tide (5 July 1943)

Those are the three basic scenarios in Strategic Command WWII: World at War as designed by Bill Runacre and David Stoeckl, with AI programmed by Hubert Cater. In all three scenarios, the Axis player (Human or AI) initiates the game and moves first during each turn; both sides have victory conditions they must meet by the end of the scenario, usually involving the capture of various national capitals and other major cities of strategic importance to either side. 

For instance, if you’re playing as the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan), the victory conditions for the 1939 World at War campaign state that you must control Berlin, Paris, London (and adjacent hexes), Manchester, Moscow, Stalingrad, Cairo, Tokyo, Seoul, Chungking, Delhi, Manila, and Canberra in order to win a decisive victory. 

Conversely, if you’re playing 1939 World at War as the Allies (China, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and the U.S.), you need to have control over Berlin, Rome, Paris, London (and adjacent hexes), Moscow, Washington, DC, Tokyo, Seoul, Chungking, and Delhi to achieve a decisive victory.  

In addition, Strategic Command WWII: World at War offers three Race to Victory variants of the campaigns listed above. Designed by the same team which created the original main campaigns, the Race to Victory scenarios have the same victory conditions for each side. However, the game places time limits on the rival coalitions, hence the name Race to Victory.

Strategic Command WWII: World at War also has several “mods” created by the design team at Fury: three are Naval War mods based on the World at War, Axis High Tide, and Allies Turn the Tide scenarios and have the same victory conditions. The main difference is that these Naval War variants have different mechanics for the various warship units depicted in the game. 

There are two more official mods, 1944 Triumph and Tragedy. which depicts the Allied onslaughts in Europe and the Pacific Theaters against Germany and Japan in the summer of 1944 and after, and 1941 Rostov, in which Germany (and her Axis allies) duke it out with the Red Army in October of 1941 for the city of Rostov. 

My Take

I’ve tried several playthroughs of 1939 World at War, but I’ve never completed the entire war. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

Strategic Command WWII: World at War can probably best be described as a cross between the original Milton Bradley board game Axis & Allies from 1984 and the modern computer game series Panzer General.  The game features grand strategy on the nation-state level in which players not only have to deploy military units and plan offensive and defensive moves, but they also have to manage different aspects of a larger war effort to make sure that their forces can fight, stay supplied, and possess information needed to defeat the enemy and emerge victorious.

But where Axis & Allies tends to simplify the mechanics by reducing the home front experience to a few essential details (industrial complexes that can be placed on territories controlled by a player, newly purchased units placed on the board at the end of each turn, etc.) Strategic Command WWII: World at War handles this in ways that are simultaneously simple and complex.

The USSR’s Research screen. © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

First, the game starts with each country already carrying out some R&D; depending on the nationality and its level of industrial capacity, your bureaucrats, scientists, and inventors will work hard to develop new techs and improve industrial and logistics methods. It’s up to you, though, to increase R&D spending (or not) and in what categories. Based on historical reality, some countries can develop specific weapons that others can’t. Per the Strategic Command WWII: World at War manual:

  • Only Germany and the USSR can deploy Rocket Artillery units.
  • Only Germany can research and deploy Rocket units.

And this is an excerpt that explains how R&D works:

  • For every chit invested, progress will be made at the end of each side’s

turn towards reaching their next levels of research.

  • Per turn increments to achieve levels 1-3 in a technology field average

5% per turn, in reality between 2-7% per chit.

  • Per turn increments to achieve levels 4-5 in a technology field average

4% per turn, in reality between 2-6% per chit.

  • Research automatically succeeds in gaining the next level on reaching

100% progress, though there is a small chance of a breakthrough

speeding up your progress by an extra 10-20% once the 45% threshold

has been crossed. Researching Intelligence can speed up this process.

  • Chits can be recouped at 50% of their original cost.
  • Costs rise with unit upgrades, generally by 10% per level of upgrade,

though some like Anti-Submarine Warfare only cost 5% and others like

Mobility cost 20% (30% for Germany).

In this playthrough of 1944 Triumph and Tragedy,the war lasted until January of 1947! © 2018 Fury Software/Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd.

It is a good idea to invest in R&D from the start of the war; I have watched The Historical Gamer’s series of playthroughs of Strategic Command WWII: World at War on YouTube, and in at least one – where he plays as the Allies and controls all of them without delegating control of any  to the AI – and consciously decides to not pay a great deal of attention to research and development in the early turns of the game. Meanwhile, the AI (which was set on the Hard difficulty level) invested on R&D and by mid-war the Axis had tanks, planes, and other weapons that were far more advanced than his Allied nations could field. So, not only was the Axis AI more aggressive and efficient, but it had better weapons than The Historical Gamer.

Additionally, Strategic Command WWII: World at War has a plethora of features that give players a taste of how difficult it is for a major power to fight a global conflict. For example, you can play the game with “Weather” as a variable that affects how units fight and move under different climatic conditions. 

If you activate Weather effects when you set up a new game, you will not just see large sections of your map showing precipitation, rough seas, or even dust storms in the desert, but you will find that your units won’t perform well in bad weather. If it is snowing or raining, air units can’t fly. Land units will get mired in muddy terrain. Enemy units in North Africa can’t be spotted during a dust storm, and you’ll get reports from ships suffering damage from rough seas if you let them linger too long in one operational area.

There are other war-related concepts depicted in the game, including partisan uprisings in occupied territories, the effects of terrain on movement and supplies, conducting economic warfare, and the importance of planning and production of new units. Though it sounds terribly complicated, Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a joy to play because even though you should think about such things when you play a game, the designers have done a good job of balancing real-world concepts and ease of play. 

Strategic Command WWII: World at War is a fun, entertaining, and challenging war game that allows players to try different strategies and make decisions that allow them to either recreate history or change the outcome of the war. When playing against the computer, you can control all the nations in your coalition or let the AI take over one or more of your allies so you can focus on one country’s war effort. 

I really like Strategic Command WWII: World at War. It has cool graphics and a design that is reminiscent of Axis & Allies – the color scheme for the various warring nations (gray for Germany, khaki for Britain, olive drab for the U.S., etc.)  is similar in its palette, and the map, while it’s more detailed and less stylized tan that of the famous board game, still has some geographical oddities that make gameplay easier but still look odd.

This is a fun, entertaining, and challenging strategy game.

So, General. Prepare to choose your alliance and take command of its forces. Will you choose to play as the Axis and attempt to create a Tripartite Empire that encompasses three continents (Europe, Africa, and Asia?) that will stand the test of time? Will you succeed where Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo failed?

Or will you throw your lot with the Allied cause, defend against the German, Italian, and Japanese offensives of the early years of the war, holding on as long as possible until the industrial might of the U.S. asserts itself, then strike back with your own counteroffensives in China, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the vast expanses of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the snows of Russia, and – eventually – the coast of Normandy?

Your armies, air forces, and navies are at high alert. Your nation-states’ industrial and economic resources are ready to support your war effort. Now, all that is needed as the world stands on the brink of a global conflict is a leader with a stout heart, a sharp mind, and nerves of steel.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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