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What happens when you take a developer known for their deep, yet utterly arcane historical strategy games, and link them with a publishe...

Field of Glory: Empires Field of Glory: Empires

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Grand Strategy

What happens when you take a developer known for their deep, yet utterly arcane historical strategy games, and link them with a publisher known for making wargaming accessible to the masses? You get Field of Glory Empires, a rich grand strategy title that carves out its own space in the genre. 

At a glance, one could quickly draw comparisons to the Total War or Paradox grand strategy games, but Empires sets itself apart with multiple mechanics that address some of the shortcomings of those series. One wholly unique feature of Empires is the way it integrates with a completely separate game, Field of Glory II, to allow you to play out the battles in that game. Though I must immediately point out that having Field of Glory II is by no means necessary to enjoy Empires. In fact, you probably won't want to command every battle personally, since that would add hours and hours to a campaign. However, if you already own Field of Glory II, and enjoy grand strategy games, it makes a whole lot of sense to get Empires. Suddenly, those fun tactical battles, the results of which were mostly inconsequential, take on significant weight. Now you are defending your capitol from an invading army, or fighting to claim a critical new province for your empire. Some may balk at the idea of needing two different games to get the "full" experience, but each can be had for much less than a typical $60 game, and both are worthwhile on their own, so I think it is reasonable enough.

Now, back to Empires itself. The basics of the grand strategy genre are mostly here. You begin the game by selecting one of dozens of different ancient tribes and civilizations. All your ancient favorites are here, from Rome and Carthage to the Greek city states and the "barbarian" tribes of Europe, and many more. The map spans all of Europe, North Africa, and stretches east to cover a portion of India. The standard campaign runs from 310 BCE to 190 CE. This is a lovely starting point just after the death of Alexander the Great and before the Punic Wars. Rome is on the rise, but many older civilizations are still lingering, their historical decline still a bit in the future. And that concept of rise and decline is a core theme of the game.

Unlike in many other similar games, simply painting the map your color will not lead to victory in Empires. As the Romans and many empires before and after them can attest, growing too large leads to many problems. In many cases, an empire that reaches a certain size will inevitably experience a rapid and sometimes total collapse. However, despite their complete collapse we still discuss and often think highly of the Romans today, almost 2000 years later. They left quite the legacy, didn't they? That is how victory is measure in Empires - how many "Legacy" points you are able to accumulate before the end of the game. Legacy points can be gained in many ways, and only lost in one or two ways. However, many of the ways you accumulate Legacy will also earn you "Decadence" points. This can be countered by focusing your resources on things that generate "Culture" points. Too much decadence leads to unrest, revolts, civil war. Countering those problems gets more difficult as your state grows larger and gets older. 

The Emerald Isle makes for a nice "Tutorial Island" to learn the basics.

It's a bit difficult for me to explain succinctly, but the long and short is this: Empires uses several core mechanics to capture a story that has played out so many times in history. Powerful states tend to rise out of obscurity, build themselves up to great heights, and then collapse more from internal rot than from outside aggression. I definitely recommend cracking open the player manual and reading through the relevant sections, as it's a bit obscure how it all works at first. The game does have in-game tutorials and a helpful glossary that will teach you everything else without much trouble. However, you will initially be at a loss as to the importance of progress/decline tokens, Culture-Decadence Ratios, Loyalty, and Legacy points if you don't at least skim through the manual. The manual also has a lengthy strategy guide section and designer's notes that explain the reasoning for the mechanics in the game, so it's well worth your time.

As an example, winning battles and raiding enemy provinces will sometimes net you slaves that you can distribute into your provinces. These slaves will naturally have a high level of unrest and always be a potential source of rebellion. Likewise, taking control of peoples who are ethnically different from you will lead to them being less than happy with their new rulers. The larger your population in a region, the greater their unrest will become as well. Much of this can be mitigated by building things like circuses and gladiator arenas, but these buildings grow your decadence score. As you slide from, let's say, a meritocratic republic built on duty and honor, into a bloated empire dependent on bread and circuses to keep people happy while slaves do all the work, the risk of revolt and civil war will grow despite your best efforts. It's a wonderful system that naturally responds to your actions and pushes your empire into the logical consequences.

As to the less abstract and more "day-to-day" mechanics of the game, any veteran grand strategy player will easily be able to hop in and get going with minimal fuss. The map is broken up into hundreds of provinces, and depending on who you are playing as, you will start with anywhere from one province to a couple dozen under your control. Within each province there is a population under your control. Population is represented by blocks of manpower that you can shift around to focus on food, infrastructure, money, or culture production. You can also construct buildings that will enhance production of those four resources. One interesting note in Empires is that you can only construct one building a time in a province, and you can only select what you want to build from an ever changing pool of options (one building per resource). If you don't like your current pool of options, you'll have to waste several turns rolling a new one. This creates an interesting strategic dilemma. I only have a very limited number of building slots in this province, and I really want to build XYZ, but it hasn't come up as an option yet. Do I spend several turns to see if it comes up next time, or do I go with Plan B right now? I'm not sure how historically accurate the concept is, but I found it refreshing to not use the same cookie cutter build order in every province like you would in other grand strategy games.

Each icon on the map indicates a special trade good in that province.
Many of the buildings require trade goods in order to function efficiently, or to give a bonus to their production. There are a ton of these trade goods, some examples being horses, iron, wine, fish, and many more. Some of these are available in certain provinces from the start, while others are produced by buildings. You can trade for these goods internally and with other states. Trade is another area where the game functions differently than you might expect. Unlike in say, Civilization, you don't make a direct agreement to import some good from another state and have it be available for your own use wherever. Rather, in Empires, trade goods are moved around in an organic way, with the buildings you construct creating a demand that can be met by any trade good containing province within range. If you control the source of the good, you'll make a little cash even when trading with yourself. If you have to import it from elsewhere you'll pay full price, and vice versa, you can make money by exporting your goods. This is all only indirectly under your control, and creates a neat living economy as demand for goods appears in regions depending on the buildings constructed there, and buildings are constructed depending on what goods are available.

The military side of things should be familiar enough to most strategy gamers. If you have ever played an AGEOD game before, you will immediately recognize the how all of this works, but be relieved to find that things are very simple this go around. Various unit types (skirmishers, infantry, and cavalry of all variety are available) are built in a region and then combined to create an army. Every unit has strengths and weaknesses, special perks like performing better in specific terrain, and each individual unit has an experience level that rises as they survive battles. On your turn you assign an army to move here and there, and give them a "stance" such as simply moving about, or immediately assaulting any forts they come across, or to go raiding neighboring provinces. Units don't actually move until you hit the end turn button, at which time ALL units from every state move at once. This means you could miss that enemy army you were targeting, or blunder into one you weren't aware of. 

When two armies meet, a battle commences. As I mentioned above, you can opt to take direct control if you own Field of Glory II, and play the battle out there. This is a mostly seamless process, as Empires closes, Field of Glory II opens, and you hit a button to import the battle. Then the reverse occurs and you are right back in Empires with the battle result. Otherwise, the battle plays out in Empires with no real direct input from you. Your input is in how you decide to compose your army, and where you send them to fight. Army composition is far more engaging than in something like Europa Universalis, as unit types are far more distinct, and your army will very much reflect the empire you have built. Most units require that you have access to particular trade goods or meet other requirements. Additionally, almost every province can produce some variety of unique unit, that is better than its standard counter-part and often has extra perks, but is also more expensive. I really liked this feature, as it gives historical flavor to an army raised in any particular region.

So that hits all the highlights, but don't be mistaken, there are plenty of additional nitty-gritty details that I didn't get into, but you can learn about as you play. I want to reiterate how genius the victory point system is in this game. Because your legacy points remain in place even if your once great empire collapses, it's entirely possible to win the game while NOT being the biggest blob of color on the map. You can play through the rise, the golden age, and then the decline and fall of an empire, and still win the game. A fall is not guaranteed, of course, but the mechanics of the game will push you further and further in that direction unless you prove yourself a very capable leader.

The deep and interesting designs of developer AGEOD have finally evolved into a game system that anyone can play (without an excessive amount of head scratching), and it is a great moment that bodes well for their future. Despite going up against some of the most popular grand strategy games out there, I think Field of Glory Empire really shines as a fresh take on the genre. The Culture and Decadence system fleshes out an idea that is usually relegated to a simple "happiness" score in other games, and makes it the core of the gameplay loop. This completely changes how you think about building and managing your empire, and makes the plausible scenario, that your empire eventually crumbles, still be a fun part of the game.  
I give a strong recommendation to Field of Glory Empires, and it's a real no-brainer if you already own Field of Glory II, as both games benefit from combining the two. 

Field of Glory Empires can be purchased directly from Slitherine, as well as on Steam and GoG. 

(As of this writing it's 10% off, go grab it if you are interested!)

- Joe Beard

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings, published by Slitherine and developed by The Lordz Game Studio, is an interesting new take on the grand s...

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings Sovereignty: Crown of Kings

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Grand Strategy

Sovereignty: Crown of Kings, published by Slitherine and developed by The Lordz Game Studio, is an interesting new take on the grand strategy genre. If a fantasy version of Europa Universalis with hex-and-counter tactical combat sounds like something you might enjoy, come see what this title has to offer. 

Sovereignty is a fascinating mix of ideas that I have not seen put together quite this way in any other game out there. The game takes place in a well developed fantasy world where 35(!) unique realms are available for the player to choose from. You take the lead of one of these realms and attempt to achieve a specific set of objectives. Your options as leader include engaging in diplomacy, managing the economy, developing spells, and of course building armies and taking them to the battlefield. I'll explore all of these in detail separately later.

Sovereignty takes place in a detailed and complex fantasy world.

The first thing you will realize when trying to decide on a realm to play is that each one has a fairly detailed back story, and that many of them are interlinked. By reading these different backstories you can get a feel for the world. There are two major human empires rivaling for power in the south, orc realms threatening on the borders, and various flavors of elves that are separated at the start, but can seek reunification. There are also human barbarian tribes in the north, a colony of pirates in the south, and swamp full of undead in the middle. There is certainly something for everyone, and every realm has a different set of goals to pursue.

I found these unique goals to be one of the game's most interesting features. Unlike the open ended gameplay of most other 4X titles, here you begin each campaign with a specific set of objectives to achieve. For example, in my first (disastrous) campaign I played the High Elves of Sonneneve. Their goal is to form a powerful alliance with the other two elven realms, the Wood Elves and Dark Elves. These other elven realms are a fair distance away, have different alignments (realms can be good, evil, or neutral) and if either one is destroyed, you lose. So right out of the gate, I can see that diplomacy will be important for this campaign, as well as having a military force capable of getting me closer to those realms and aiding them in inevitable conflict. If you go play as those other elven realms, your objectives will be similar but distinctly different in one case, and completely different in the other. 

Some of the especially unique victory conditions include searching for clues to a hidden treasure (the aforementioned pirate realm), capturing a bunch of prisoners (the ice realm of the Winter Witch), and taking complete control of the seas (an England-like island realm). There are trade focused campaigns, campaigns focused on specific political rivalries, and of course several that require simple conquest of particular provinces. You can also choose to play each realm with more generic objectives like conquering the entire world, or taking out a particular rival. 

For my second, much more successful, campaign, I decided to be the Germanic barbarian themed Vessoi realm. Now my goal was to control the four "totems" so I could call the Horde to sweep across the land. I also had to ally with two of my northern neighbors. The twist here is that in order to control all of the totems, I would have to attack and conquer land from one of those neighbors, and use diplomacy to cozy up to the other, which was led by the isolationist and kinda spooky Winter Witch.

Once you have settled on a realm to play, the game begins. Gameplay is split between the strategic layer and the tactical combat layer, both being turn based. You spend your time between battles on the strategic layer, purchasing units and buildings, making trades, and moving armies around. When one of your armies encounters an enemy army, the combat takes place on a more detailed map using a hex-grid. 

My soldiers form a line and await the undead hordes.

First, let's talk about the strategic layer. In a world where Europa Universalis IV exists, any game that occupies the same niche is going up against some serious competition. I don't think there is any game development studio out there that is going to top the sort of excessive options and extreme detail found in a Paradox grand strategy game, so I won't fault Sovereignty for coming up short in a direct comparison. It's not that Sovereignty does a bad job of giving you information and options for how to shape your realm, but, overall, it can't help but feel a bit crude in the shadow of Europa Universalis IV. For example, every other realm has a relationship with you ranging from friend to enemy, but why the rating is what it is, and what variables are influencing it, is not readily apparent, compared with EU where you get a detailed breakdown of your relations and how they are changing over time.

Diplomacy and trade in Sovereignty is handled in a manner that will immediately be familiar to any experienced 4X gamer. Deals can be made for resources, gold, treaties, and so on. What makes Sovereignty a bit different is that you are limited by how many "agents" you have available for assignment. Several turns are required to complete trades with realms that are further away, and your agent cannot be used for anything else in that time. Some nations have several agents available and can constantly be wheeling and dealing, while others may have only a single agent to work with. In that case, you must try to make every exchange count, since these agents are also needed for spying and influencing diplomatic relations. I was pleased to find that the AI in Sovereignty was actually willing to make fair deals with me. Too often in other 4X games I don't even bother with negotiations, since the AI usually wants an arm and a leg for even the least valuable resources. Here you can usually expect to make a deal that is both reasonable and beneficial. 

There are about a dozen or more resources like iron, gems, and beer to be found in Sovereignty, and acquiring access to them through trade or conquest is a critical part of the game. Any non-basic unit, and almost all province upgrades, require one or two of these resources to build. The resources are produced by specific provinces scattered across the map, which generate one unit of that resource per turn. This means that the amount of a given resource in the game world at any time is finite, making them quite valuable. 

At the start of the game you will often only have direct access to a couple of the resources, and will need to acquire the others somehow. There are a few ways to do this. Negotiating for a couple units of iron is simple, but inefficient, since you will immediately use them up and need more. Going to war with a neighbor in order to conquer their resource producing provinces could be a lengthy and costly endeavor, but will get you unlimited access to that resource. The third option is something that should have been a great feature in the game, but currently feels incomplete: the stock market. The market lets you sell resources for cash, or buy resources that other realms have sold. The price of the resources is supposed to depend on supply and demand.  Unfortunately, the market didn't seem to work quite like it should in theory. All prices are exactly the same at the start of the game, and in my experience playing they never budged one way or the other. On most of your turns there will only be one resource available to purchase, if any. This should be a lively and interesting part of the game, but in the current iteration it is not.

Besides specific resources, the most important part of your realm's economy is gold. You begin the game with a healthy income, and your primary expenses will be buying new units and paying maintenance on existing ones. There is little reason to stockpile cash on hand, so you will always want to keep your income-expense ratio pretty tight by building the biggest and best army you can afford. You can invest in upgrades to provinces to make them produce more, so you will want to keep that in mind while setting your budget as well. The more income you have, the bigger an army you can field.

Another important money sink is the magic system. Every realm has a set of spells available to them, but these spells must be earned over time by gathering research points. The points can be generated by specific provinces and buildings, and can be purchased each turn in exchange for gold, with the cost per point being different for each realm. Once you have enough points, you can either unlock a new spell, or open up a new tier of spells. This is the closest the game has to a tech tree, and while the options are somewhat limited, the spells available are quite useful. Some give you a strategic layer bonus of some sort, while others can upgrade a specific unit. Higher tier spells can make powerful, and sometimes permanent, changes to provinces and units. I really enjoyed this system, since every realm had a unique array of spells available, and there was always something useful to work towards.

The final way to spend your funds is the most fun, building an army. While diplomacy and trade are features of the game, make no mistake, you will need to have a large army in the field at almost all times. Units are broken down into six categories: infantry, irregulars, archers, cavalry, siege units, and naval units. Within each category you will have usually have two or three choices. The exceptions being naval units, which are not available at all to some realms, and siege units which usually have fewer options when available.

The unit production screen. This dwarven realm has a lot of infantry options, but no cavalry.

Now, you might be thinking that only a couple of options for infantry and cavalry sounds limited, but this is another area where the game offers a ton of variety between its 35 realms. While some units in different realms may share the same art, they all have unique names and stats. In addition to their stats, many units have attributes which further shape their role on the battlefield. Some can move across difficult terrain types with ease, others can resist cavalry charges, some strike fear into enemy units, while others can offer a morale boost to the entire army, or give you a scouting bonus on the strategic map. There are a ton of different attributes in the game, and individual units can even gain more as they survive battles and level up. The armies of most realms have some kind of theme, and these attributes go along with it. The better units require specific resources, as mentioned previously. At the start of the game you have access to all of your possible units, but not the resources needed to build them.

One thing that disappointed me about the units was that they have no accompanying description or flavor text. There is a box for it on the unit purchase screen, but for every unit it is either blank or contains a quote from a real world historical figure like Sun-Tzu or Otto von Bismark. It's a bit odd that these descriptions are absent, since there was clearly a lot of effort put into giving each army a distinct style and interesting units. A user mod on the Steam Workshop is available to rectify this, but I would prefer official descriptions.

In addition to regular units, you can recruit heroes to lead your forces. These heroes do not appear in the battle, but instead give you one-shot abilities that can be used to turn the tide in your favor. As your heroes lead battles, they can level up, at which point you get to choose a new ability for their arsenal. There is a lot of variety in these abilities. Since you can only use each one once per battle, you will want to time it carefully to maximize the effect. This adds an interesting wrinkle or two to each fight, and makes your individual armies feel more distinct, even if they contain the same list of units.

That covers all of the elements of the strategic layer, so let's take a look at what happens when two armies collide. You are first given the option to fight it out manually or auto-resolve. I really liked the auto-resolve feature in Sovereignty compared to games like Total War. Instead of simply clicking and getting a result, here the auto-resolve is broken into three phases, offering you multiple chances to retreat or press the fight. There is also more suspense, as you watch the unit icons smack each other around one at a time until one side retreats or is annihilated.

In most cases though, the best result will be gained by taking direct control of your forces. This option takes you to the tactical battlefield, where all the abilities discussed before come into play as you maneuver units around a hex-based grid depicting the local province. This phase of the game handles much like Panzer General and similar titles, so will be easy to jump into for most strategy gamers. I found this portion of the game to be surprisingly good. It offers a light wargame feel where the unique attributes of your various units really shine. Terrain plays a major role in the battles, and the home team will often have some kind of advantage in this regard. Attacking across a river can be especially tricky. Common sense tactics, like forming a solid line of infantry backed by archers, will give your forces the edge. Cavalry must have flat ground and open attack lanes to fully maximize their charges, which are more powerful the further away they start from the target. Archers can deal a lot of damage at range, but are helpless if melee units reach them. You will want to keep units alive, since they can level up and gain better stats or special abilities. These experienced units can make short work of freshly recruited foes later in the game.

While the early game battles feature mostly standard units slugging it out, the fighting only get more interesting as more exotic options become available. You are limited to four each of your "elite" units, and they can take many turns to build, but once you get them on the field they really light things up. In my Vessoi campaign I was always excited to get my Shapeshifters (think werewolves) into the action, where they made mince meat of most foes. Other higher tier units include dragons, unicorns, walking trees, undead nightmare creatures, and all sorts of other fantasy genre highlights.

The primary downside here is that the AI is not the best. Every battle involves the attacker trying to occupy two or three cities while the defender holds them off for X turns. A human player can often trick the AI into maneuvering its forces poorly, and either seizing the objectives when attacking or distracting the AI long enough to run out the clock when defending. This assuming your forces aren't strong enough to simply crush the AI army in direct battle. That isn't to say I won every battle against the AI, because I certainly got my rear end handed to me a few times.

So, between all of these interesting pieces, how does the whole stack up? For me, the game somewhat remains a diamond in the rough, even after almost two years in early access. There are a lot of things here I really like, and I love the concept of the game. However, it still feels not quite finished in some ways, as I mentioned earlier. There are reports of bugs from other players, and I experienced a few myself. I also found that the UI was at times clunky, with one open window covering another, or not displaying the information I expected it to display as I moused over various parts of the screen.

Despite those issues, I do really like what The Lordz Game Studio is doing here. The game is a one of a kind experience, letting you jump into something like a basic version of Europa Universalis set in a fantasy world of dwarves and orcs and elves. Unlike EU, here you get to take direct control of your forces in battle and lead them to victory or defeat, instead of watching some numbers tick as the invisible dice roll. While there are other fantasy 4X's out there, none offer such a detailed and ready made world to explore. The world of Sovereignty feels like it has history, and the events that unfold during the game add to that story. Every time I started a new campaign I was confronted with a very different set of circumstances, and few games can make that claim. Fewer still can do so while offering thirty-five different choices of nations to lead. Considering the game's very reasonable price of $25, I think anyone interested in a strategy game with a fresh take on things should give it a shot. With a touch more polish and elbow grease, this game could rise above it's current shortcomings and become a great game that stands alone in style and substance.

Joe Beard

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Sovereignty: Crown of Kings is available directly from Matrix Games/Slitherine, and on Steam.

Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe Board Game Precursors Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved si...

Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Grand Strategy

Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe

Board Game Precursors

Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved simulations has been strategic command in World War Two, especially in the European theater. Some must admit cutting their teeth on Avalon Hill's 1974  Rise and Decline of the Third Reich or possibly its 1992 successor, Advanced Third Reich. In fairness, let's not forget Australian Design Group's 1985-2007 World in Flames series and also Decisions Games card-driven  Krieg! World War II in Europe and its successors in 1999 and 2011. Another recent entry that scores good marks is GMT Games' Unconditional SurrenderThere are other board-games. too, but these are those the reviewer finds deserving of memorable accolade.

That's Old DNA; Get on with the PC Stuff!

Fair enough, just giving a taste of where all this originally debuted. The purpose of this article is to review the most up-to-date PC title of the Strategic Command Series, the latest being released by Slitherine on November 17th, 2016. 

Interestingly, this is a PC game that has a development story of its own. Just like board game players, PC players want more detail, performance and better graphics as the years go by. 

These sequences are money-makers for the gaming companies and we don't begrudge this. Most recently, I had purchased the last version of this game from the previous publisher, Battlefront: Strategic Command WW2 Gold Bundle. Amazingly, just after that, Jason asked me to review games at A Wargamer's Needful Things, so before I had ever played this older version, I was in the thick of looking over Strategic Command, WW2 in Europe.

The original developer, Fury Software, has moved to work on with Slitherine/Matrix. Fury has been culturing this series since 2007 and have made a splendid choice to continue to do so with the new publisher. Fury's craftsmanship and TLC approach is enhanced in this new iteration of the game; I can attest through gameplay that you will see a devotional level of attention and detail.

Let's Take a Look at the Manual

Before you start your PC engines bent on terror and destruction of the AI enemy, you'll need to check out the gaming manual. The document has excellent structure and detail, so you won't get lost.

The thing is, the AI, even on the novice level, will put you through your paces and won't pull any punches. This is one game where you will want essential understanding regarding the mechanics of:  HQs, supply, morale, purchases, rebuilds, reinforcements, scripted events and combat mechanisms for land/air/sea. You'll find everything you need in the manual, and it's worth paying attention.
Trust me, you'll 'feel the need'!

This is a PC wargame with the complexity of Advanced Third Reich; you'll need to understand how the systems work, while the computer program takes care of the implementation. To put it another way: if you plunge into the game, as I did, with only rudimentary comprehension, the AI will spank you here, there and all over if you let it. I lost half the Kriegsmarine in the early parts of the game for lack of preparation, for example. 

Essential Elements in the Manual

Where to begin? The good news is the manual is comprehensive and well-organized; the bad news, if any, is that you can't afford to skip it. 
One of the first choices you'll make

One of your easier decisions is choosing unit icons: silhouettes or NATO? I started with the former but eventually switched to the less glitzy but more utilitarian NATO view (showing my age, no doubt). 

Note: there is a lot of information you'll be shown on these icons, and the symbol meanings are not immediately obvious. You'll need to refer to the manual to know why units are flashing or not, why some have white dots on them, etc. Honestly, I never mastered all of this while playing the game but I'm convinced it was detrimental not to have done. 
these predictions are very helpful but there's more to the story...

The reason I failed to explore the details thoroughly can be blamed on too-heavy reliance upon onscreen combat predictions to make decisions. Players familiar with Panzercorps (for a review, click herewill easily recognize this helpful, if not comprehensive, feature. 
A must read; put it alongside your copy of of Baron de Jomini

Keep in mind that combat is conducted by individual units. Therefore, to defeat an enemy unit, it's important to attack sequentially with powerful assaults. For example: medium bombers can first defeat entrenchment levels, tactical bombers (e.g. stukas) then reduce the strength of the enemy, panzer units attack twice to punch through, infantry armies attack more effectively than infantry corps, and so on. Since all hexes have a stacking limit of one for all types of units, organization on the ground is a major factor of success. For example, one infantry unit can attack, then move away and make room for the panzer unit to finish it off. I found the AI was very efficient at this ( esp. compared to me!). 
Don't skimp on the research funds or you'll find panzer IIs fighting Stalin tanks! 

Success is also dependent upon the research and level upgrades the player decides to purchase for unit types. There are a lot of decisions to make with difficult-to-foresee long-term impact on the game. When you do see it, it could be too late! 
There are plenty of detailed reference tables
Be mindful of your political aspirations then pony up!
Not only will you need to research for weapons, but other countries may or may not join you depending on how much money you spend to influence their direction. During my game, I was able to manipulate both Spain and Turkey into the war. The former was much more important to my Axis focus on the Western Allies as it enhanced the U boat war (easier repair and resupply) and set up the loss of Gibraltar thereby allowing my Italian fleet infiltrate into the Atlantic (Stay tuned for some images of the battle over Portugal!) 
Did you forget to read this? 

Yes, I did read the strategy guide and it's very useful to keep in mind, but the part I didn't read up on sufficiently was this:
These decisions are made throughout the game and significantly impact strategic direction

In the case of my game, I thought I had to figure out how to invade Norway with the Kriegsmarine; as a result, I lost a few ships before a decision announcement was made by the game that I could pre-pay for an invasion of Norway. 

Oh, really?? 

At first, I thought this was kind of hokey, because inevitably in most strategic games, the simulation of the Norway invasion is not a bright bulb in the design. 'Here we go again' crossed my mind. 

Later, I was sending stuff over for the invasion of Egypt when I received another strategic decision point, and was asked if I wanted to invest in the Africa Corps or not. I said 'dummkopf what does it look like I am doing' as I had send a panzer division, additional corps and other air units already! 

As it turns out, these are the game's mechanisms to simulate funding for alternative operations that you may not want to spend money on. 

Because I had loaded up on units in Africa, I swept the British from all of the middle east and with Spanish help, I took Gibraltar. On the negative side, Barbarossa wasn't so hot, due to my heavy investments in the U boat war, naval capabilities and efforts versus the Western Allies. The strategic choices are the player's to make, but don't think the AI won't do something to counter your decisions. Meanwhile, it's making decisions on special scripts as well!
It's a double feature!
Before going into examples of gameplay, I mustn't neglect to mention that the designers have provided a thorough guide on the ability to product your own simulations with their gaming engines. To be honest, I did not have time to fully explore this, but if this portion is anything like the rest of this high-quality product, I'm sure  MOD wizards will be very happy indeed!

Gameplay Analysis - Axis

Late 1940 Highlights

Readers, I started the analysis from late 1940 because there is plenty of coverage out there on how to handle the Axis for the Polish and French campaigns. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that transferring units across the front takes a lot longer than you might anticipate. Strategic operation is quite expensive and digs into the pocketbook every time it's used. So make sure to start marching those units in Poland back to France at the earliest opportunity because you'll feel yourself unprepared to launch an incisive attack on France. It took me too long to conquer both countries.
Occupied France

Early on, get used to making sure the partisan centers are occupied: compare above image with that below:
Partisan centers in France. Why these spots need to be occupied.  
U Boats 1940 
Late 1940: the U Boats start to prowl more freely once the French fleet is no longer a factor. Note how AI has sent some Light Cruisers in and were ambushed by the wolfpack. CLs aren't too bad against subs, but CVs and DDs are better. 

The U boat war is important for Germany. The player needs to get the subs out there using 'silent mode;' then, once on top of the (red) convoy lanes, put them in 'hunt' mode to sink the merchant ships. This is represented abstractly (as in most strategic WWII games) as loss of money (or MPPs). 

June 1941

North Africa. The Axis will go on to overwhelm Britain here, in spite of Colonial reinforcements

A lot of Axis units were placed in North Africa due to a scripted decision that brings in Rommel and buddies. As previously mentioned, I had already sent a bevy of  reinforcements as soon as Italy entered in mid-1940. All these assets proved too much for Britain and her Pacific allies -- but the AI put up a valiant fight.
Diplomacy: Germany invests heavily in Spain and Turkey; ultimately they both enter the fray! 

Malta had been a problem interdicting supplies to North Africa, consequently slowing down my attacks. In turn, an effort was made to bring Spain in, so as to cut off supplies to Malta.  Eventually, the Germans got close enough to Alexandria to have air units hunt down the British Fleet, and after a series of heavy battles with naval air units and the Italian navy, The British force was KO'd, including a valuable carrier. The Commonwealth forces put up a stiff fight and a lot of money points were spent repairing naval forces and sending reinforcements to the Africa Corps ground units. Consequently, none of that money made it to the Russian front. 

One note -- it's a bit too easy to repair fleet units. Even if down to one point, it takes just one turn (usually two weeks) to sail them to a port, one more turn to repair them to full capacity (depending on how close the port is to a full supply source or home waters) and then they are back in action at a full 10 strength points. Of all the systems in the game, the naval system seems to be the most arbitrary -- not that it isn't fun! That's the balance to be found -- boring naval battles or fun ones. A difficult design decision and I am not unhappy with how Fury has gone about doing this.
This strategic view shows the forces for Barbarossa and the mass of units serving Rommel!
Just before Barbarossa: above is the strategic view of the situation. Notice how the units icons are clearly indicated for each of the nations. Shown are German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian units on the East and Baltic fronts. A few Italian troops have made their way East.  The Russian are weak at start, but based on my experience, I hadn't enough quality German units facing the communist foe. You can see that The Italian fleet is cautiously positioned in the Taranto area.

1941 -- End of the Year

North Africa

Disaster in Egypt -- Demoralization for the UK

The U Boats

The small strategic dots in the water areas show U Boat packs threatening the commercial fleets of the Western Allies and convoys to Russia. Note that Spain has just entered the war. The Italian fleet is poised to enter the Atlantic. You can see  the weather areas, grey and white showing winter. 
Iberia with neutral Portugal and Axis Spain. 
Gibraltar will be taken and the Italian fleet unleashed! 

But in Russia....

Close approach to Moscow but that is as close as I'll get!

Due to lack of an HQ in the area (uselessly sent to Finland) I could not and never did capture Riga. It also took a long time to reduce Pripyat marshes, again, due to insufficient HQ support. The Germans needed at least two more HQs and probably about 10 more armies in Russia. But I had spent the money on U boats and North Africa. There are trade-offs, and the AI knows about them! 

September 1942 -- USA in the War

U Boats and Raiders terrorize the Atlantic

1942 started out grimly for the Western Allies. Readers can see the extent of U-Boat operations, including an Italian Caribbean raider in the lower left corner.

Italian and German surface fleets poised to intercept potential Allied operations in the area

Massive funds had been spent in the West and naval superiority (or at least parity) was achieved for the moment. But as a consequence, the war in the East is a bit frightening for the Axis because not enough effort has been devoted to handling that front properly. 

September 1942: Disorganized Germans pushed well back from Moscow and beyond Smolensk.

December 1942 -- The Hinge of Fate?

Stabilizing the Russian lines and fending off the invasion of Portugal!
Detail of bitter fighting in Iberia; Axis fleets searching for and finding Allied troop convoys: 
The Bay of Biscay is now known as Ironbottom Bay
The war in the East had started to resemble WWI fighting, with massive attrition casualties on both sides. Meanwhile, the Germans continue to send heavy forces to beat down the late 42 incursion into Portugal and Spain. Heavy tanks have been sent to counter USA armored corps in the south. But once again, the Germans fail to send enough HQs to the front -- evidently another will be needed in the south. Players need to take care of this -- supplies and support from nearby HQs can make all the difference. The Spanish performed poorly, even on home turf, until the Franco HQ was sent back from the Russian front in early 1943. 

April 1943

A good turn for Germany and friends!

1943 is a stabilizing year for the Germans as I finally get my act together on managing the Russian hoard, which is not to say they are fully leashed by any means. And in the West, some nice counterattacks sink the Hood and destroy some valuable American land forces. Note that this Combat Summary is received every turn something is destroyed -- of course, sometimes the news can be pretty bad!

More vicious fighting in Portugal. That carrier hovering north of Spain will be located next turn and sunk by wolfpacks returning from raiding the Atlantic! The Axis are able to cycle their naval units for repair in southern Spanish ports and specially built-up St. Nazaire in Brittany. This is devastating for the Western Allied AI as it struggles to get a foothold.

More Axis units fighting to control the channel. 
By now the WA have lost 5-6 carriers due to aggressive operations

In general, the AI does a fair job handling the naval units, but losses are a bit more random and dramatic than what is usually seen on land. Once the carriers expose themselves and fail to hide after some rounds of attacks, they are exposed to counterattacks by surface vessels or U boats in range. I'd say the AI suffered more than it gave in these battles. But it is fair to keep in mind that the Germans invested heavily in U boat numbers and repairs. Most definitely the Axis were fighting a western front strategy in this game. 

June 1943

WA invasion is in trouble. Many Western Capital ships have been lost. 
The WA can't get supplies or air units through,

Strong USSR forces can pound the minors. Romania is getting nervous! 

Gameplay Observations

Readers, due to time constraints and commitments, I needed to finish this review before completing the entire war, but I do feel as if I can make some valid observations about this fine computer simulation. 


First and foremost, the game and scripting (that is, decision events) build a sense of tension for the upcoming campaigns. Additionally, these provide some structure for novice players, such as myself. Note that I did play this on the novice level and felt sufficiently challenged by the AI. 

One could make the point that scripted events are also a kind of way for the designers to 'get away with' not simulating difficult aspects of the game. But this is not unusual in board games that cover the strategy of WWII. Norway is notoriously difficult to simulate. The designers decided to cover the invasion with an abstract decision to do so or not. If the German player decides to do it, the invasions of Norway and Denmark are automatically successful (don't waste time and resources doing a land campaign in Denmark like I did!). The same is true for a scripted decision -- or not -- to send Rommel to North Africa. While I haven't played the Allied side yet, I'm sure the same scripting is conducted in  various situations on their end. One I witnessed, that was not historical, was the British occupation of Irish ports to facilitate Atlantic operations. 

Finally, I must point out that one seriously enjoyable element of the game is how seamlessly intertwined game actions can be conducted. One can start moving around some subs, then move on to the east front, then make purchases or reinforcements, stop doing that and conduct diplomacy then come back to land attacks. Nothing is phased in any sort of rigid sequence of events. That's all handled by the program after the player pushes the 'end turn' key. 

Land, Air and Naval Systems

Obviously crucial to any simulation of WWII in Europe is how land maneuvers and combat are handled. The game avoids the mechanic of gathering forces for odds-based attacks, instead simulating combat as sequential attacks by individual units. I haven't made up my mind if I like this or not. It can be difficult to manage and predict how units are to be organized on the ground for an upcoming series of battle attacks to destroy enemy units for breakthroughs. My conclusion is that my inexperience is a factor. But not even the AI did much in the way of breakthroughs. Combat seemed to be more 'attritive' and 'WWI-ish' than what reminded me of the bulk of WWII maneuvering combat. Certainly, there were cases of attrition and stalemate in WWII, but I'd like to see that as more of an exception in this game. Perhaps with more experience playing, I would indeed be able to see more battles of encirclement than sequences of head-on attacks. 

The air war is simulated pretty well, but again, highly based on attrition and reinforcement. The sequence of how air attacks are handled is at first abstract and then later simply becomes a bit repetitive in how it is represented in a series of pop-up windows. More exciting would be a series of animation screens. 

The naval war simulation is likely to generate the most controversy. Naval units, like any other units, cannot stack. Therefore, it is impossible to represent the fleet as based in a single port, such as Scapa Flow or Taranto. One ship can be in a port, the others are going to be floating around at sea unless they find another haven. However, the fog of war makes up for this, as ships cannot be seen unless scouted by the enemy with air or other fleet units. And it can be a bad idea to get surprised at sea by running into a vessel, ambush is very possible. Personally, while I had my doubts about the naval system, in the end I rather enjoyed it. Moving a naval unit is fraught with tension! Will I discover an enemy carrier I can send my battleships after? Or will my sub run into a barrage of depth charges by finding a DD unit guarding the sea lanes? 

Overall, I'm very happy with the combat systems in the first playing of this game; I'm sure, as a newbie, I missed some very important nuances about all three forms of combat interactions. 

Production, Research and Diplomacy Simulation

These elements seemed to work well. Players should keep in mind that production is not immediate, nor are diplomatic results. The same is true for researching new capabilities. It's important to remember that for some research, the breakthroughs still require upgrading the units in the field to the better weapons! I definitely struggled with this trying to push to the East. You can't fight if you are upgrading and reinforcing. 

My only bone to pick with the game is that it's much too easy -- or seems so -- to reinforce naval units that have been severely damaged. They are back up and running withing a couple of turns, and this is simply not how quickly naval units can be refitted. I do think this is something for the developers to look at in the next go-round.

National Morale Level Simulation

Of all the elements, I found this the most murky. Perhaps I needed to read the manual on this in more depth. But why does Poland's morale stay on the display after it is conquered? Or France's? One thing the software does mostly well is get rid of or hide unnecessary data,  but not so this. Also, when your national morale level is, for example, 99,248, then a player gets an additional 300 +/- morale for sinking the Hood, well, so what?  It's shruggable. Why 300? Why not 1000? Plus the game doesn't tell you how much morale the British have lost by losing the Hood. This is one simulation area that could use a bit of fleshing out to become more meaningful for the player. 

Recommendation for Purchase

By all means! Especially if you enjoy strategic simulations of WWII, you won't be disappointed and the game feels as if it is highly re-playable. Take note that there is a more than moderately steep learning curve for this PC game. The manual is digestible, but not in one reading. This is a game that will take time to master, especially until multi-player is available (enabling teaching situations). Right now the quickest way to learn the game is to play it, in spite of the helpful videos out there. There is that much to take in, so if you are looking for beer and pretzels, this might be a bit much. Otherwise, enjoy the banquet!