Old Gamers Never Die: Altering History in ‘Strategic Command WWII: World at War’ is Fun, Challenging

Main menu page of Strategic Command WWII: World at War. (C) 2018 Fury Software and Slitherine Games

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s mid-afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Friday, January 15, 2021. Right now it’s a mild early winter day; the temperature is 75˚F (24˚C) under sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the west-southwest at 15 MPH (15 KM/H) and humidity at 50%, the feels-like factor is 75˚F (24˚C). The forecast for the rest of the afternoon calls for a temperature of 72˚F (22˚C) and scattered rain showers. Tonight, rain showers might be around, and the low is expected to reach 50˚F (10˚C).

Although I have been checking the headlines about the after-effects of last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters and Donald Trump’s pending trial in the Senate, I decided to take a mental health break and play a long session of Strategic Command WWII: World at War instead of focusing exclusively on politics. I like keeping informed, but sometimes I can get stressed out by the current President’s shenanigans and his supporters’ steadfast devotion to him. So I gave my brain a vacation of sorts and played a game that ended up like something out of a Harry Turtledove alternate history novel.

Since I am still not confident about playing through Strategic Command WWII: World at War’s version of the entire war (from the historical start-date of September 1, 1939 to the game’s default end-date in early 1947), I had been playing the scenario 1944 Triumph and Tragedy, which spans the last years of World War II starting on June 6, 1944 and, if the Allies don’t win by the historical V-J Day of September 2, 1945, ends in early 1947.

I chose 1944 Triumph and Tragedy because it is the only scenario in the game where the Allies have the opening move in the turn-based grand strategy game created by Fury Software of Canada and published by Slitherine Games circa three years ago. And because World at War (WAW) involves commanding the armed forces of entire coalitions (either the German-led Axis or the Allies led by the U.S., the British Empire, and the Soviet Union), I often play as the Soviets and let the game’s AI play the other Allies (the U.S., the British Empire, France, China, and Italy) for me.

Why the Soviets, you ask?

Well, it’s certainly not because I am a Communist or a huge fan of the Russians. My reasons for playing as the USSR are more practical. See, while the Anglo-American Allies are fighting a global war – World War II, after all, was actually a series of interconnected wars waged in Western Europe, Eastern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Asia-Pacific Theater – the Russians’ main mission is to move west, liberate its territory from Germany, storm into Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, then invade the German homeland from the east.

Starting dispositions on the Eastern Front, June 6, 1944. Note Finnish front near Leningrad. (C) 2018 Fury Software and Slitherine Games.

This is far simpler than the other Allies’ war objectives; even in WAW, which is not as detailed or complicated as Gary Grigsby’s War in the West, fighting as the Americans or British involves moving armies, navies, and air forces across the map all over the planet on land, air, and sea. There are so many theaters that the Western Allies have to focus that it’s difficult to play WAW against the AI – even on the easiest level – and controlling the U.S., Britain (and Commonwealth nations), and the Soviet Union manually.

Of course, as in the actual war, after Germany and her minor allies are defeated, I always move the Red Army east to fight against Japan and end the game with a decisive Allied victory.

I’m not a novice at WWII strategy games, mind you, but it’s been so long since I had the luxury of having time to game regularly that It’s easier for me to play as the Soviets. Although WAW does not depict the warring powers’ armed forces exactly – the scale of the geography is somewhat like a cross between Axis & Allies and War in the West, with some of the graphic conventions of the former and a few of the more complicated in-game mechanics of the latter – the designers stuck to the historical realities and made Russia a continental power which emphasizes large land armies and tactical aviation but only has a modest navy.

Another reason why it’s easier to play the 1944 Triumph and Tragedy scenario as the Russians is that I only have to focus on the Eastern Front. As in the real war, Moscow has a non-aggression pact with Japan in WAW, which means that as the Soviets, I only have to deal with Nazi Germany and her minor allies, which include Finland, Romania, Hungary, and various Balkan countries that were part of Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia.

I started the game of 1944 Triumph and Tragedy on Monday afternoon and played it, on and off, until noon today. And although I’m not going to bore you with a detailed play-by-play account of my version of the Allied victory over the Axis, I will give you a few details of how this session of WAW went.

First, the war lasted well into 1946. The Soviet Union did not advance westward as fast as it did in the real summer of 1944; the Continuation War – as Finland refers to its fight against the Red Army – became a stalemate because I focused almost exclusively  on Germany and did not assign enough of my newly-produced forces to the Finnish front. As a result, after the Germans surrendered in the spring of 1946, instead of sending my forces east to get ready to help the Americans end the war with Japan, I had to divert many units to the Northern front.

Oh, and in this version of history, the Americans captured Berlin, not the Soviets.

Because WAW lets human players control nations nominally set for AI control – so long as they are your allies – I was able to change the shape of the Pacific War by carrying out U.S. amphibious landings in China and Formosa (present-day Taiwan). Of course, by then the AI-controlled U.S. had already invaded Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and it dropped three A-bombs on the Home Islands (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Osaka) not long after my Soviet Union finally entered the Pacific War.

I didn’t take notes while I was playing, so I am not sure how long Japan held out in 1946 before the game told me that the Tokyo Garrison had surrendered and that I had won a Decisive Victory for the Allies. I do remember thinking that it was late in the year – the weather was icy and snowy in some parts of the China-Manchuria-Korea war zone – and that this session of WAW might probably last until 1947.  I believe that as soon as Shanghai fell to the American Marine division I had landed in East China several turns earlier, it triggered WAW’s victory conditions and automatically ended World War II.

A screenshot from a session of WAW I played back in 2019.

In any case, I had some fun today, and I didn’t have to think about Trump, his devoted loyalists, and how fragile our democracy is in early 2021, at least for a few hours.

Well, that’s all the news I have for you today. I don’t know what I’ll be writing about tomorrow; if I can, I’ll try to write a review or something light along those lines Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

All of the images in this article are screenshots from game sessions I played on Strategic Command WWII: World at War. All of the game design, graphics, and indicia are (C) 2018 by Fury Software, Slitherine Games, and Matrix Games.

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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