Making History: The Great War – PC Game Preview
Making History: The Great War. PC game preview. Publisher/Designer: Muzzy Lane. Steam Key: $29.99 USD until release, which presently is set for September 9, 2014; thereafter $39.99 USD
Muzzy Lane has established itself as a developer of top-rank strategy games with their World War II products Making History: The Calm and the Storm and Making History: The War of the World. Naturally, the centennial of the beginning of World War I spurred them to make Making History: The Great War. Yet, to see the Making History system as only wargames is misleading; players can choose to make them exercises in nation building. The World War I version is particularly apt for that approach.
Graphics may appear bland, but zooming in reveals impressive details. The geography of the world is divided into sixty playable countries—including Newfoundland—and hundreds of regions and colonial treaty ports. Mountains, rivers and cities are clear, as are mines, farms and natural resources. Cities are shown with accurate regional architecture. Tooltips explain features further. Twelve map overlays show important factors like revolt risk, level of infrastructure and supply. Military units have unique uniforms and are animated when moving and fighting. Other interesting units are dirigibles, many kinds of naval craft and biplanes. Actions are done with the usual left-right click shuffle and drop-down menus.
The information bar at the top of the screen has the common elements such as money, resources, manpower and victory points. Selecting a country, region or city yields more information on politics, stability, manufacture, diplomacy and research. Tabs over the mini-map have even more data on matter such as trade, diplomacy and demography. Research has a Civilization-like tree divided into pre-industrial, industrial and mechanical ages. A bar on the right side provides quick access to players’ countries’ situations. Battles are shown as orange bursts and right-clicking on them shows attacker and defender losses by type, i.e. artillery, infantry and aircraft. Sound effects are minimal and basic. Infantry combat is initiated by simply moving a unit to an enemy region; cavalry can either move or charge at an enemy region, while artillery and naval units can bombard a region or a city’s industry. Depending on the terrain, units can move by road, river, rail or ocean transport.
A Different World
Although the graphic and mechanics are similar to Muzzy Lane’s World War II games, play in the new game is different. The world—even Europe—was not as developed in 1912 as it was in 1933. Gaining wealth and increasing military might is a function of building factories in cities. These factories must have well-developed rail systems, and only Britain and most of Germany are well-heeled in this respect. Powers such as Austria-Hungary and even France didn’t have enough double-tracked lines to expand their manufacturing base or easily move troops. Colonies in Asia and Africa not only have poor transportation systems but very backward agriculture. Unless players want to try their luck immediately with combat, they must invest in infrastructure. Cities have limited slots for factories. When a slot is empty, a factory, a mill or a special unit like a barracks or university can be built there if the rail system is developed enough. Such activity may require research and will cost money and materials. Factories can produce either consumer goods or military items. Consumer goods and upgraded mines can give a country advantages on world trade. For example, Germany can sell steel abroad and use the money to buy oil. Trade can be accomplished by specific trade agreements or by buying on the world market. Profits can be used to upgrade barracks or other military installations to produce better troops. A first-level barracks yields only militia but barracks II yield infantry I, engineers I, etc. Underlying all this is manpower units (MPUs). Creating and mobilizing the military takes men away from work and drains the economy. Wars should be short, or a myriad of problems appear on the home front. When a nation is conquered, the victor has a choice between annexation and setting up a puppet government.
Diplomacy may be more important in this era than in later times. The only scenario in the Steam Early Access version is called “Diplomacy and Disaster,” underlying the need for “talk-talk, not war-war,” to paraphrase Churchill. Starting in March 1912, most of the infamous skeins of alliances are in place but war is not inevitable. Diplomatic choices range from declaring war and funding coups to financial aid and alliance. Military access can be requested and revoked. Germany is a good specimen for diplomatic action. Isolated, German players can try to butter up Eastern Europe to solidify Germany’s southern flank in preparation for Austria-Hungary’s probable collapse.
As discussed in Geoffrey Wawro’s excellent A Mad Catastrophe: The Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire (Basic Books, 2014), 1912 is a very good year to begin a scenario. Serbia was creating the Balkan League that would drive the Ottomans to the gates of Constantinople in the First Balkan War. The Serbs, “the Prussians of the Balkans,” turned on their former allies and stripped them of their gains in the 1913 Second Balkan War. A preemptive Austro-Hungarian strike may have quashed Serbia’s rise to power. Also, 1912 marked Germany’s, Russia’s and France’s expansion and reform of their armies. Germany’s reforms would be completed in 1914, France’s in 1916 and Russia’s in 1918. Significantly, large French loans allowed Russia to improve her western railway system by 1914—an improvement that should have given the Germans pause and forced them to re-think the modified “France first” strategy.
After all players have given their orders, the one-week turns are resolved and messages appear. Some messages are scripted historical events affecting play while others are simply notable events such as the sinking of the Titanic. Social unrest anywhere in the world is announced and strikes at home can slow production. Political choices appear, such as Germany ending its practice of wasting money on a high seas fleet and pumping up the army instead. Players’ moves often have unexpected results. In one game, Germany occupied Luxemburg, causing Britain to declare war. Enflamed by an invidious attempt to draw them into a war against fellow Teutons, the Boers revolted in South Africa and formed yet another Republic of Transvaal. Such non-historic events will undoubtedly be controversial in the gaming industry. Players who want to follow a strict historical sequence will wince at the engine’s possible curve balls. However, the name of the game is “Making History.” The most painful aspect of World War I is not only that the war it have been avoided but that the war didn’t have to play out as a global conflagration. The game engine allows players to test theories within a believable historical context.
Making History: The Great War is still in beta status as Steam Early Access. Questions still remain about the AI and certain random events. Why would Brazil go to war with Italy in 1912? However, graphics and mechanics look solid. The major attraction of the game will be to allow players to manage a complicated situation to avoid disaster. As such, the game looks great!
(Note from ArmchairGeneral.com—July 28 marks the 100th anniversary of Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, initiating the hostilities that became the First World War. Our World War I forums are a great place to discuss and learn more about this global conflict. Check out the World War I forums by clicking on this link.)
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad