Strategic Command: World War I – PC Game Review
Strategic Command: World War I. PC Game Review. Publisher: Battlefront.com. Developer: Fury Software. $45
Passed Inspection: Flexible interface, multiplayer support, multiple scenarios (3 strategic and 6 battles), good AI, captures the strategic problems facing World War One commanders, good replay value due to multiple possible winning strategic strategies, one of the few good First World War PC games available.
Failed Basic: Uses squares (instead of hexes). Surface naval combat model is less impressive than land, air, and submarine combat.
World War One was a close run thing. Germany almost managed to win the war in 1914 and again in 1917/1918. The Central Powers forced the surrender and dismemberment of Russia and defeated Serbia, Romania, and Greece. Both France and Italy came very close to leaving the fight. Unlike World War Two, World War One was largely fought honorably with reasonable treatment of prisoners and minimal intentional damage to civilians. Many tools of modern war were first developed in World War One including radio, aircraft, submarines, tanks, gas warfare, and machine guns. Many of the most horrible aspects of the last 100 years also arose from the ashes of World War One including Communism, Nazism, and the worldwide devastation of the Second World War.
Despite the importance of the First World War both historically and militarily, very few computer games have successfully covered the land conflict. In contrast, the number of World War Two, US Civil War, Napoleonic, and even ancient warfare games are legion. There is a big gap on the gaming shelf for a good PC World War One strategy game.
This is the first strategic level game I have ever played that effectively captured World War One combat.
Strategic Command WWI (SCWWI) is the latest offering in the Strategic Command series by Fury Software. SCWWI is a PC based game with the player taking the side of the Central Powers or the Entente. The game includes three strategic games fought with corps size units having approximately twelve turns per year: 1914 with the historic Central and Entente, 1914 with Italy honoring her treaty and joining the Central Powers and 1917 after the entry of the USA. There are also six battle games with smaller units and daily turns: 1914 Race to the Sea, 1915 Gallipoli, 1917 Cambrai, 1917 Middle East 1918 Flanders, the German 1918 offensive, and a 1918 Turkish battle.
This review arises from taking the Central Powers in the 1914 strategic game to eventual victory in 1917 after completing more than thirty hours of play. The game was stable with logical controls. The 91 page game manual was clearly written, comprehensive, with a printed copy included with the boxed version. A good strategy guide to the campaign game is available free from the publishers.
This is the first strategic level game I have ever played that effectively captured World War One combat. The game mechanics and the AI worked well. Many of the strategic and supply issues that dogged commanders during WWI I also had to struggle with. I worried about supply a lot and effective use of HQ units is vital to success. Just like WWI, combat largely grounds to a halt in the heart of winter and movement and supply become difficult when there are no railroads or when muddy conditions prevail.
The war is fought on multiple levels. There is a pretty deep diplomatic game. Players can apply national resources in hopes of gaining marginal allies who will provide material trade support to strong allies entering the war with troops and ships. Players can also use diplomatic pressure on neutrals leaning towards the enemy in the hopes of getting them to switch sides – something that occurred in WWI. Naval warfare plays an important role in keeping supply lines open (or shut) and potentially allowing amphibious invasions. Players can apply national resources in hopes of gaining production or military technology (which is not a sure thing). Or players could forgo spending on diplomatic efforts and improved technology and buy as many troops as possible to crush the enemy.
National morale is very important to the game. If the war goes badly for a country (naval blockade, loss of cities, allies, or many troops), national morale starts to fall. If national morale hits zero, the country surrenders and leaves the conflict. The loss of one ally can trigger the loss of others. During WWI the fall of the Ottoman Empire greatly harmed morale in Austria-Hungary. After the fall of Russia, both Italian and French troops lost their willingness to engage in major offensive operations for more than a year.
The game allows the player to recreate many of the “what ifs?” that arise from WWI. In my game I thought that the Central Powers could win if they did not widen a war already being fought on three fronts (France, Serbia, and Russia). For that reason, I did not invade Belgium, gave the port of Trieste to Italy to prevent her war entry, and never used unrestricted submarine warfare. The game can be significantly altered with game options such as fog of war, weather, and production delays. The difficulty of the game can be easily adjusted. The game can also be altered in very specific ways by employing some easily written scripts in the game. For example, if you wish to force a 1914 Romanian entry into the war it could be easily accomplished by anyone with minimal programming skills.
There is robust multiplayer support with email, hotseat, and network options. Although I have not used multiplayer, the discussion boards have been favorable.
The AI was good, but not great. The AI would repeatedly attack some positions that were too strong to be taken. The AI’s biggest problem was not prioritizing the reinforcement of damaged units. Reinforcing is much less expensive than replacement with new units, and totally destroyed units harm national morale.
Several things impressed me with the AI. The AI would use flanking tactics whenever possible and would rotate multiple units in an attack. I came close to losing East Prussia in the Fall and Winter of 1914. I was impressed how well the AI crushed my Atlantic submarine forces. I tried four major strategies, none of which worked (although I did not attempt to gain submarine technology advances due to my concentration on land power). A human would play a better game, but the AI will both attack and defend rationally and can give the player a run for their money. This is one of the better strategic AIs that I have played and illustrates the continued improvements as the Strategic Command series has evolved.
After I completed my first game, a patch was released. Initial reaction on discussion boards has praised the patched AI game play and other improvements. Because save games were not compatible with the patched version, I have not played the patched AI.
The game uses squares instead of hexagons which has been a nagging problem with the entire series. The visuals and graphics work fine, but this is not a game with a lot of eye candy. The game models strategic submarine warfare, naval trade routes, amphibious landings, and sea transport of troops very well. Major naval surface warfare is modeled less well. Surface naval battles would not extend over months and entire battle fleets could engage in combat. These surface naval combat issues represent trade-offs in game design and do not detract from the main appeal of strategic land combat.
Overall, this is a very fun game. I was completely engrossed and suffered from the “just one more turn syndrome.” Even better, WWI had a lot of different strategic possibilities. This game will allow you to play out many of your alternative history ideas of WWI. Best of all, the designers have announced plans to release a free WWII scenario playable with SCWWI.
I highly recommend this game if you are interested in WWI strategic combat giving it an overall 9 of 10 score. There is a demo, full manual and a 1914 campaign strategy guide free online. If you are interested in WWI strategic level combat you should take the demo out for a test drive or download the manual and the strategy guide for an interesting read.
Armchair General Rating: 92%
About the Author
Avery Abernethy is a Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. He has played board and computer wargames and RPGs since elementary school. Avery’s grandfather served in the US Army in France as a blacksmith in the engineers during WWI.