second chance games

Search This Website of delight

THE GREAT WAR published by Hexwar Hopefully you caught Jason's trailer for this computer version of Richard Borg's Comm...





published by Hexwar

Hopefully you caught Jason's trailer for this computer version of Richard Borg's Command & Colors The Great War, whose original board game I reviewed some months ago.  If you haven't  read that, I'd suggest a quick recap, as today I'm going to focus on how that translates to playing online. 

In the very simplest terms it is a direct translation from physical table top to computer screen.  Everything that you can do in the original you can do here.  When you first call up the game, it loads in seconds and there you are, as you can see above, with the exact same picture as the box art.  Should you not have the board game, the help button will bring up the rules booklet.  

Unfortunately, the print is so microscopic that you'll struggle to read it and, if you can manage to read it, you'll find that it is simply a condensed version of the board game's rule book, but with none of the many large colourful examples of play.   Though the rules are small print, there is a detailed and very clear set of large pictures of all the cards in the game.

What is missing is that there is absolutely nothing about the computer controls for playing the game online.  Admittedly, it is very easy to work out what you have to do, but a good knowledge of the C&C system certainly helps.

Click on Play followed by Start on the very first screen and a pop-up menu of Scenarios appears.  Select your Scenario, read the intro [purely informative], a further click of Play and you're good to go. 

The screen view is very clear and easy to scroll around, though you cannot obtain a complete view of the whole battlefield.  This is something I expect with most hex-based online war games, because their maps are often many hexes wide and deep, but with The Great War the dimensions are very limited.  So, I'd hoped for a more all-embracing view.

Apologies for the blurring, but here is a typical close up of a section of the battlefield.  Notice the appropriately cratered effect after several artillery barrages, the barbed wire and the Front line German trench.  The blue chevrons above the units signify basic infantry, while a clip of three bullets indicates a machine gun unit, as can be seen in the image below.

A neat feature is the orientation of the units.  So, the next picture shows a unit of British infantry that has advanced into the barbed wire, while next to them is a unit that has both taken casualties and just been forced to retreat.  This latter feature is purely cosmetic, as there is no modifier for orientation.  Still nice to see the distinction.

When it is your Turn to play, your hand of cards is displayed.  You can check each one before selecting and also review your Combat  cards as, where appropriate, one may be selected to be played in conjunction with your Command card.   This is one occasion where a brief run through of online instructions for play might have been useful.

Notice the slightly irregular line up, creating the effect of how you might arrange them when playing with the original physical components.   In close up below is one such card, identical in every way to the cards you would play with on the table. 

When you've selected the card you're going to play, the screen lights up those of your units that are valid for potential choice.  All you then have to do is click on each one that you want to activate and the hex that they are in will turn green.  I say "All that you have to do" but that is a little misleading.  It is at this point that the main flaw that I've come across in the game can crop up - selecting the unit.  Sometimes a single click may be enough, but sometimes I've had to click on a unit as many as ten times before the program agrees to select it. 

This doesn't just happen when you are selecting a unit for activation, it can happen for any and all of the occasions when you need to make a selection. Select a unit to move, select a hex for the unit to move to, select a unit to fire, select the hex to fire at - all these can bring up the attendant problem of repeated attempts being needed to be successful.  

I sincerely hope that this is a glitch that at some point a patch may be available to overcome, but it can be very wearing, because you do a vast amount of clicking in the course of a game!  On very rare occasions I have been totally unable to select a unit - when this has occurred, it seems to be a unit that is positioned on the edge of the board.

When a unit  is selected to move you will see all the hexes that it can move to and still fire coloured in white and those it can move to, but not then fire, coloured in green.  When you click on the destination hex, you'll see your little men run to it and, as with the board game, you move all your men first and then cycle through those who can still fire or engage in close combat. 

At this point, the game throws the requisite number of dice which tumble neatly across the board and many's the time you'll watch with trepidation as dice teeter backwards and forwards until settling onto one of their faces.  Will it be the necessary skull, if you are attacking in close combat or a more innocuous result?

When the dice have all come to rest, the results will be flashed on the bottom of your screen and if kills have been achieved a number of soldier figures will disappear from the targeted unit.

The use of Artillery is a particular visual favourite.  First, a very large targeting reticle appears above where the shells are going to fall and then gouts of earth appear and where appropriate the hex turns into that rich muddy brown with shell holes seen on earlier shots and, of course, if you have had a unit there soldiers disappear!

As in the original game, at the end of your turn, a new Command card will be revealed and added to your hand and then the next screen will present you with the choice of either two stars or an unknown Combat card.  For those who know the game, those stars are what fuel your ability to fire artillery and one or two other game functions.  Choose the Combat card and it will be turned from its generic side to reveal what you have drawn.

When the enemy A.I. takes its turn, you will see all the same things happening, except at an even quicker pace than you can manage. As always this is a strength of any computer version of a board game and with The Great War one of the other benefits is not having to set the board up and clear it away at the end of the game.

However, what has shown up for me after many repeated plays which hasn't happened with playing the board game is the similarity of each scenario and the repetitiveness of the experience.  I have no definitive explanation for this, other than that the effect of the simple variety of physical actions, [selecting a card to play, rolling dice, moving your plastic figures across a very attractive real board, holding the artillery template over the board, collecting tokens and, inevitably, the interaction with a ftf real human being] creates an experience greatly superior to doing little more than clicking on cards and clicking on units.

Nor does my preference for the physical board game result from  receiving the end of game screen message:

For me, The Great War fits an easy niche for when I want a swift, simple play of the board game and system that I really like, but have no ftf opponent.  But, if I want a thoroughly engaging computer experience of tactical warfare, then I would turn either to purely computer designs of WWII warfare or some of the excellent translations of WWII board games for the digital world.

However, notice that I've had to switch to WWII. So, it's worth adding that, for the moment, The Great War is the only game I have been able to find to provide a turn based tactical WWI experience of trench warfare online, the limited few other games that I have come across are all first person-shooters.


  1. You might want to get a program called Greenshot for doing screen captures. It's free and lets you select which areas of the screen to grab.

    I'm not sure how you're doing it now but it looks like you are taking a picture of the screen with a camera or phone. Not really ideal.

  2. Mike isn't our usual PC game reviewer, he is our main boardgame reviewer. So the other PC game reviews are proper screenshots. Thanks for bringing this to my attention though. I will explain to Mike how to take a screenshot for future reference:)