Friday, August 29, 2014

To End All Wars - Preview

It was 11 a.m. on a fine summer morning in Sarajevo, June 28, 1914, when the driver of an automobile carrying two passengers made a wrong turn. The car was not supposed to leave the main street, and yet it did, pulling up into a narrow passageway with no escape. It was an unremarkable mistake, easy enough to make in the crowded, dusty streets. But this mistake, made on this day and by this driver, would disrupt hundreds of millions of lives and alter the course of world history.

This is the first paragraph of Mark Buchanan’s “Ubiquity: Why Catastrophes Happen.” This book is not about history but about the size and frequency of earthquakes, stock market crashes and the frequency of big wars. Nonetheless, that first paragraph conveys the magnitude of World War I (WWI) and the intriguing question of how many strategic decisions, maybe even the unremarkable ones, would have sufficed to collectively steer history towards a different path.

AGEOD’s “To End All Wars” (EAW, by AGEOD and published by Slitherine/Matrix Games) is a WWI game that puts the player in the shoes of the political and military commander of an entire nation at war. makes decisions at the strategic and operational level. EAW leans heavily towards the strategic and operational military aspects of the war, but also asks the player's input in diplomacy, economy, and technology improvement. The game play is of simultaneous turn resolution (all sides plan the movement of their forces/resources and the computer calculates the outcome simultaneously) against a human (by e-mail) or against the computer.

EAW is not a beers and pretzels game and the gamers looking for new thrills in the style of the cartoonish simulated wars of late need not apply. This is a deep war game, that will storm your man cave, drink your beer, eat your pretzels and entrench itself in your gaming schedule. The scope of EAW is enormous and its game play is almost perfect.

The main menu screen of EAW shows a level of advanced weaponry that you can achieve only at the final years of the war.

The scenario selection screen. They are either too easy and short (one star) or just the whole war (four stars). It looks like EAW will go down the route of smaller scenarios delivered via DLCs.

The scenarios included start shortly before or after the start of the war, so there are not too many political decisions to make other to just swallow the pill of war. The political decisions available are very limited, as a result.

The top right corner of the map is reserved for diplomatic and research summaries. The diplomatic summary shows also all the generals available to your nation. The research summary (right panel) accounts for very simple and generic, level-based categories of technological/doctrinal advancements.
The variety of units featured in the game is out of this world. Not all units are available from the beginning, off course.

A screenshot from the invasion of East Prussia scenario. The artwork continues to be one of the trademarks of AGEOD's games. 

EAW makes a big emphasis on leadership and the player is encouraged to keep an eye on the generals running his war.
Different war plans are available at the start of both campaigns. The player can choose alternative war plans and that will affect the initial deployment of the land forces.

The western front, as seen from the eyes of the French generals. All generals are blocked at the beginning of the scenario and will become active a couple of turns later.

The naval strategy and operations really do affect the course of the war. As the Germans, I assembled my fleet(s) and send them hunting for the British main fleet. The search was unsuccessful, but I sunk an entire French troop transport convoy bringing in troops from Africa.

Although even air operations are modeled, the main show is land warfare in Europe. The battle planner screen allows the player a grand-tactical say in the outcome of the battles.

The list of units in the field is big but manageable. Don't forget that many of those are into the same stack and can be moved around together.
This is a stunning naval victory in paper, but the Entente navies are resilient to my naval strategy. While I had so many ships focused in the British, the enemy mined a good portion of the German coastline.

EAW is a very fine offering from AGEOD/Matrix/Slitherine. The subject matter, the level of detail and the clever design of features that revolve around military strategy is poised to make EAW a classic. The computer opponent is strong and, most importantly, believable. I had one of the best war gaming moments commanding the Germans when I turned a quite strong Russian army marching within East Prussia. Without a shot fired, my maneuvering turned the Russians back to their main land.

The way that the struggles of men, materiel and leadership is presented in EAW is certainly unique. One particular attraction is the way leaders make a difference. Amassing troops and pulling them onto the front is just the beginning. Putting a good general in charge of those forces will make or break an offensive or a flank.

In EAW, the premiere formations enjoying all the benefits from good leaders (movement speed, logistics, command in battle) are armies which are grouped under a general HQ (army group). With massive armies in such a starring role, the turns representing 14 days of simulated battle fit like a glove for fighting an entire war in a manageable way. I was very concerned about AGEOD's apparent fixation with 14 days of simulated battle. But as explained above, the turn duration feels and plays right.

For a game of such complexity, EAW is more or less bug-free. I can only say that after 24 hours of play I noticed a few minor bugs and experienced two non-handled exceptions that ended up in a crash to desktop. The sporadic issues that steer EAW from an instant classic are lengthy turn resolutions for some fronts and while playing some war plans. Longest turn resolution that I did measure was 3 minutes plus change. Also, map scrolling tends to become a bit clunky and moody when the amount of units in the field increases.

And, AGEOD if you are reading this, I miss the turn replay button and a clean list of my generals. I would also appreciate less generic tooltips about why I can't appoint or promote a general to form. It is very frustrating to try and try to form an army for a certain region and later find out elsewhere that is not doable by design. Maybe adding those design decisions and restrictions in the scenario briefing?

All things considered, this is the most impressive WWI strategic computer war game out there. The way that EAW does not limit a player into the major and well known military strategies and events of the real war is what I like to point out as one of the biggest assets of the game. The approachable amount of moving pieces comes as a close second.

In real life, as explained in Buchanan's book, the resilience of the forces at the turn of the 20th century brought a self-sustained colossal catastrophe that ultimately didn't end all wars. The challenge of the player in EAW is to make just enough good strategic decisions to end at least this one.


Dimitris said...

Thanks, nice writeup!

JC, how would you compare this with Commander: The Great War? Perhaps unfair question but they seem to be focusing on similar scale.

Anonymous said...

I have both games and this is a lot more detailed. You can do a turn for Commander Great War in 5 minutes. This takes a little more thought.

Doug Miller said...

I'm going to give it another chance tomorrow, but so far I'm really disappointed in this game. Which is sad, because I usually really like AGEOD titles.

I'm not finding the game at all historical in how it plays, at least not in the east.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the middle of my AAR. I'm enjoying it a lot.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I'm the same anonymous that posted on Aug30 as well as just now about my AAR.

Jason Rimmer said...

Have to disagree. WW1Gold or the latest version is by far the best WW1 Grand Strat game. EAW suffers when it gets to static warfare and is a wargame in a WW1 skin. I do love the combat mechanics though and wish WW1Gold had something similar. On the whole though it def doesn't knock WW1Gold from the No1 spot.

However it's much better than Commander WW1 game.