This is an hex and turn-based wargame with complex inner workings that becomes surprisingly approachable thanks to a well-thought and intuitive interface. There is no way around to the massiveness of it though, and it is recommended elsewhere that you cut your teeth on scenarios smaller than the "big one" that covers the whole war. I followed that advice and I can speak of cutting teeth but also of breaking molars while trying to chew Russian Armies in vast expanses of territory. Emphasis on fighting the Russians and not the game, which is good news.
|You may need to click the image to read the text. The scenario I chose is "Road to Leningrad"|
All the above objectives would be worth if I would be playing the big scenario covering the whole war. However, this is a small subset of the start of the war and the scenario designer has made his picks. In the screen below, the scenario objectives are labeled with flags. In the game the map can be zoomed in or out with the mouse wheel.
|Although not unique to this game, clickeable informational panels and windows are a great asset. In this animation, I went from visualizing a whole army group deployment through the armor details of a single type of tank in just three clicks.|
Coming back to the order of battle, the game also features a traditional informational window that allows you to see your armies in a single page. The text on these windows is also clickeable.
|You may need to click this image to read the text. von Leeb's forces, ready for action.|
|Who is your boss, schutzen?|
This is an area where the game surprised me good and bad. Fog of war is affected by the so-called "detection levels" of every specific unit. The higher the "detection level" the easier the unit will be detected. The "detection level" of a unit is computed by its distance to the enemy and covering terrain. Although it is not stated in the manual, I have the suspicion that the composition of the unit also affects its "detection level" because I usually can see more armored units than infantry units behind the fence of the forward line of troops. Units with high "detection levels" are more likely to be plotted in the map compared with units with lower ones. I'm not so thrilled about the AI not being held to the same fog of war restrictions than me: according to the manual, the AI "knows" every hexagon in the map as having enemy troops or not with the only restriction being not knowing the enemy unit's arm or strength unless the enemy unit has a "detection level" that warrants such knowledge. This computer opponent design will surely raise some eyebrows and I'm anxious to see how it works overall.
Let's do some operational reconnaissance with our luxurious air assets. F5 is the key to switch your cursor into the aerial reconnaissance mode. Once the air reconnaissance mode is activated, one has to right click on the location/hexagon of interest. The game engine handles the specific aircrafts and squadrons from which your pilots will fly the mission and the enemy units spotted will be plotted in the map according to their "detection levels". In general, the beauty of the intel gathered lies in the eye of the officer as you will have to deduce what the AI is up to. In my experience, every time I spot an enemy headquarters unit by aerial reconnaissance makes me want a sound mod that says "bingo!" because the AI tends to keep its ducks in a row (i.e. a properly echeloned formation).
Armed with dubious information it is time now to think of a plan that brings certain victory to our forces. Such is the life of the S2 and S3 officers, ain't it?
Let's talk a bit about operational art. For an army that had not a single paragraph in its military doctrine about operational art (as we know it today), it is somewhat ironic that the Wehrmacht cleaned up western Europe during 1939 and 1940 with sharp, clean and decisive ... Ummmm ... Master pieces of operational art (?!). At the onset of WWII, the German Army believed in one thing and one thing only: the battle of annihilation. Not that they didn't believe in it before, this belief comes from times as far as the times of Frederick the Great. Kurz und vives (short and lively), the warrior king used to say about his preferred way of waging wars. Germany could never afford to wage long wars and thus the need to destroy the enemy in a short and decisive battle. To achieve a battle of annihilation, Moltke was very influential with his belief in encirclement by troops moving fast towards the enemy's rear, supplemented with forward pressure by front line troops. The enemy would then be forced to fight a battle with a reversed front. To keep my game in tune with the historical counterpart, playing as the Germans I will try to keep a strong focus in the destruction of the enemy.
Invading Russia is like entering a funnel through its narrow extreme. At the line of departure you are squeezing your forces to enter the fight and some 80 miles later you are diluting your troop density beyond recognition. It is hard to encircle anything with one regiment every other 20 miles or so. But in this particular scenario I have the benefit of a closed flank (the Baltic Sea) and only one encircling pincer arm is needed. Based on the intel I could gather so far, south of the Dvina River-Riga line I am facing at least two Soviet Armies and I will try to destroy them before moving to where most of the Soviet forces are likely to be: defending Leningrad.
|Click the image for an expanded view. Plan for the initial operations in Army Group North's sector.|
In the next installment, the start of the offensive.