The most damaging conflict in human history was WWII. Immense armies and huge fleets fought each other throughout the Earth in an attempt at global domination. The scene of the most intense and brutal fighting has come to be known as The War in the West in the European theatre. The fate of nations and empires hung on these battles in the air, on the ground, and in the seas. Such an epic struggle certainly deserves a simulation worthy of it, and there have been no shortage of attempts to portray this conflict as a game. Commander: Europe at War is the latest such game on this topic, and quite a game it is.
Commander: Europe at War is a turn-based strategy game covering the entire War in the West during WWII. Players control units on the corps level in battle as either the Allied or Axis nations. A series of scenarios allow players to begin with the invasion of Poland, as well as other scenarios for the attack on Russia and several other key points in the war.
Play revolves around moving formations that represent Tank, Infantry and Motorized army corps and fleet and air units. Each unit type has a realistic movement factor and is rated in unit strength as well as a number of upgradeable areas, such as advanced armor and anti-tank weapons. Unit effectiveness is also taken into account and is easily determined by a simple color-coded system where units with a white number are fully operational and units with a red number are completely disrupted. There are also yellow and orange levels showing formations that are partially ineffective for combat.
Units lose effectiveness through movement and combat, as well as through enemy air attack and upgrading; they can recover this through remaining motionless for a number of turns depending on the tech level of the particular formation. The staying power of units and how well they attack and defend is reflected by unit effectiveness.
The overall objective of the two sides is to militarily defeat their enemies by occupying their capitals and several other key cities depending on the particular nation involved. For example, you cannot defeat the Soviets by taking Moscow or the British by taking London, nor will they ever surrender if these cities are not taken.
The game map represents a portion of the United States and Eastern Canada to the Ural Mountains in Asia, going from West to East, and from Norway to North Africa going from north to south. The major population centers and production cities are all on the map, but there are only a few cities per nation. The game map is subdivided by hexagons and should be quite familiar to any war gamer and easy for any newcomer to understand. Terrain in the form of mountains and hills are portrayed, and these affect both movement and combat.
The game has an elegant unit production system and a simple research system. Each turn players are given a certain amount of production points based on the Axis on the cities they hold and the Allies on the cities, as well as sea convoys that arrive in Britain and Russia. The sea convoys can be interdicted by the Axis by battle fleets and U boats, and are defended by Allied fleets.
To construct a unit a nation must have enough manpower trained for the unit and the production to construct it. Manpower is trained at a very slow rate and will be a chronic problem for the Axis as they gain advances and losses mount. Depending on the unit type it takes between zero and several turns: a garrison takes no time to construct while a Tank Corps may take 3 turns or more.
The unit types include battle leaders, which are historically rated and can be attached to any formation for increased effectiveness and added historical flavor. Not all leaders are created equal nor do they cost the same in production points; a great leader like Patton costs more than a battleship to acquire, where as a mediocre leader could be as cheap as a garrison.
Other unit types in the game include the garrison, which is a weak Infantry Corps for city defense; the Infantry Corps; the Motorized Infantry Corps, the Tank Corps; the Fighter wing, the Tactical Bomber wing; the Strategic Bomber wing,; and fleet units that include submarines, destroyers, battleships and aircraft carriers.
Each turn research is conducted in four key research tracts, and how much depends on the number of labs each power possesses. A power may purchase a lab using production points, and the cost is exponential. Each nation also has a limit to the number of labs it may purchase. As each game turn passes, a certain amount of research is done in the field you have assigned the purchased lab to. You cannot reassign labs, but you can sell them for a fraction of their cost and buy a new one for a new area of study.
Research improves both unit capability as well as the overall production and war potential of your nations. Each power on each side must conduct its own research, and this is not shared among the powers. When a new technological innovation is discovered – such as level 1 armor – you have the opportunity to upgrade deployed units on the map board. This upgrade costs production points and lowers unit effectiveness as the formations absorb the new weapons systems.
Each turn players may move any and all units in any desired order. Any unit that ends its move adjacent to an enemy has the option of attacking that unit. Attacks can damage both the attacker and defender, and may cause the retreat of enemy units. If this happens players have the option of moving into the vacated hex with the attacking unit. Aircraft can attack any enemy within range, but are subject to fighter interception, which in turn is subject to possible counter interception if you have fighters available and within range. Strategic bombers can attack both units as well as production cities, and if successful can lower the production potential of the target city for a number of turns while that city recovers.
Sea combat is similar to land combat. Battleships and destroyers can bombard any formation on a costal hex, and attack enemy fleets in port. Carriers can conduct air strikes, but these are subject to possible fighter interception. Surface ships and U boats of the Axis can also attack convoys at sea. Convoys are randomly generated in the West and sail for ports in Britain and Russia. Submarines of both sides are invisible to the opposition unless they attack or you try to enter a sea hex in which a hidden sub is located. Each convoy has a random number of production points that the target nation receives if the convoy survives to reach port. If the Axis fail to interdict these activities it is extremely difficult to defeat the Allies.
The game has a simple to use interface and a nice soundtrack. Tanks and ships make the appropriate sounds as they move, and there are also battle sounds, but there is no animation in combat nor are any really needed. This is a war game, not a first person shooter, and the game is in the planning and maneuvering of forces, not in excessive bling.
As a WWII simulator this game has the potential to be the very best. It still needs some graphic improvement and tweaking of force levels and production, and these factors are all moldable by game players. But it does simulate the War in the West and the Soviet Union far more realistically than say the popular Hearts of Iron series. I score it three stars, but with some slight improvements it can easily be a 4 star or better game, but the caveat being this is a game for history lovers and those with an interest in WWII.