The Strategic Command series has a history to its name. Series patriarch Hubert Carter has always maintained a specific goal for these games. Carter wrote the ‘Designer Notes’ which begin the manual for the latest SC title Strategic Command WWII: World at War. Here is what he has to say about accessibility:
At the time I began development in 1999, there was in my mind a bit
of a void when it came to grand strategy WWII PC war games that were
approachable and somewhere in between what a grognard would like to
see, and what any war game “lite” player would be interested in.
Many SC games have been released since those humble beginnings. Each of these has been refined and updated while trying to strike the balance between accessibility and strategic depth. Which brings us to the most recent offering Strategic Command WW2: World at War. How well does WaW find that balance?
In WaW you choose to play as Axis or Allies, meaning there are inherently more than one nations to play as. Right away, you can assign an AI teammate to play the nations/theaters that you may not want to focus on. Once in the game, you can even swap sides at any time, handing the helm over to the AI. From there you can select which nations to play as and assign the AI to the nations/theaters that do not interest you. What’s more, if the AI on your side starts making questionable moves, you can untick the AI from that nation and take manual control.
This option to swap, flipflop, take charge, handover, is, in essence, what I see WaW encouraging you to do: Get in there and get your hands dirty. This is what makes the overall experience so fun and bombastic to play. The game doesn’t hardwire you into single campaign, which is a great opportunity for the curious player but perhaps can still be engaging enough for those familiar and experienced in the wargaming genre. It helps that the world conflict is available. Focus on what theater interests you; let the ai play the rest.
The game’s larger systems are refined and logical. And here WaW continues the tightrope walk: the whole map is open, but the systems are streamlined and effective but not obtrusive. What makes this successful is the use of a single, game-wide currency. Indeed. Military Production Points (MPP) can be spent on the grander strategic considerations such as research and a very-simplified diplomacy system. Production of new units is a simple matter of purchasing from a list and waiting for the allotted time/number of turns for completion. There is no juggling of economic infrastructure or population appeasement or the likes.
MPPs are generated by capturing and maintaining a hold on certain geographical locations – From simple ore extraction sites to major cities. Naval convoys also generate MPPs every turn. The convoy map illustrates where resources are coming from and where they’re going.
A nice detail is how this map shows what kind of specific resources are being shipped, and does so for historical flavor. Mechanically, these specific resources are converted to functional MPP. The production screen has a similar presentation where you purchase units which are accurately labeled/named for that respective country. It may not be critical to know that you’re hiring exactly the Graziani HQ, but you still know that you’re hiring a much-needed HQ. Details like this are another way that WaW maintains that balance between accessibility and historical details that may deluge its computer wargaming siblings.
Anyways, Since MPPs are your sole currency, actions need to be taken to gain them, protect them, and deny them. Take an enemy city or raid an enemy convoy route, you deprive them of MPP for the next turn.
WaW is easy to learn, but difficult to master. It is convenient to drop in and out of – although time does tend to get away from you when playing! Turns do not take literal hours to plan and supply. Because the game is so easy to drop in and out of it makes for fun experimentation. It allows you to get heavy-handed and silly without it being a massive time dump. Check off yet another pointbox for accessibility.
There are some problems that lie in the UI at the map level. Specifically: commands, orders, and functions that may not be readily known are not readily displayed. Like recon or carrier management. You could scream RTFM until you’re blue in the face, but to a newcomer, there is still a lot of information to retain in a game like this. So, more ingame contextual tooltips would be helpful in tempering a new player’s experience. This is a minor gripe but still a very necessary QOL matter.
Likewise, many turns begin with popup notifications. Generally, these are a situational report of the world followed by suggested courses of action and Yes/No prompts. This is additional, necessary information that must be sifted through and acted upon. Unfortunately, the beginning of the turn is the only time you will ever see them; there’s no way to recall the waterfall of popups that hit you at the beginning of each turn. And with the juggling act of up to 3 major nations, it may be difficult for the new player, or anyone with terrible short-term memory, to remember, for example, just how many units need to remain within a certain number of hexes from a specific city.
Take comfort, though. Because WaW doesn’t kick you into the deep end without a lifeline. Conveniently, while in-game, the manual and included scenario strategy guides are two clicks of a mouse button away. These player resources are well-written and are easy to reference.
In determining the success of WaW, I think we need to take a step back and consider the following: What are some standard systems that one would expect in a computer wargame? Supply, of course. Terrain modifiers. Manpower. Hex size and turn duration. Unit type and name. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? There are broad strokes but still finer details to consider.
Strategic Command WWII: World At War exceeds the sum of its parts. It focuses on the aspects and scopes that give the player elbow room to get in there and get stupid, to throw history off the rails, while, simultaneously, providing enough historical flavor and context to perhaps salve even the grouchiest wargame veteran. Achieving such broad strokes and finer points of detail, and making them work deftly hand-in-hand is what makes WaW so much fun, engaging and, above all, accessible. Mission: Accomplished.