Game Comparison / Review: Commander: The Great War and Strategic Command World War I.

Men at the recruiting office at the Town Hall
Men at the recruiting office at the Town Hall, Melbourne, to enlist for service in World War I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the distinct pleasure of being a beta tester for Slitherine and The Lordz Games Studio for Commander: The Great War.1This isn’t my first gig beta testing…nor is it my first tour with Slitherine, I’ve previously beta tested Legion: Arena for Slitherine and was also a beta tester for People’s Tactics. If you want me to beta test a game you are working on, I’m always looking for opportunities.

I thought it would be a worthwhile undertaking to not only offer up a review of Commander: The Great War but also a comparison and contrast with Fury Software’s and Battlefront‘s Strategic Command: World War I. Let me begin by noting that both games are high quality and provide a lot of hours of entertaining gaming. If you can afford both – I recommend both…but if you can’t, or if you prefer a certain type of game, I hope this article will help you make an informed purchasing decision.

A High-Level Overview

Both Commander: The Great War and Strategic Command: World War I are historical, turn-based strategic simulations of World War I. As such, this usually means less graphical dazzle and more substantive gameplay – and neither disappoints on this front…in fact, the graphics in both games are beautifully rendered.

Commander: The Great War has a bit of “beer and pretzels”2Personally, I don’t drink beer…I think it tastes like urine. I’m using the colloquial term I hope gamers in this segment are familiar with. feel to it. I do not mean “beer and pretzels” as an insult but rather to simply note the type of game. I personally prefer games which have a bit of “beer and pretzels” feel to them – so I don’t spend my entire life attempting to complete one game!

Replayability

Commander: The Great War Screenshot

Commander: The Great War includes several scenarios which allow you to start at various points during the war – but they are all on the same map and essentially the same game from different points in time. In contrast, Strategic Command offers several different scenarios which in addition to allowing one to play through the war at various points also allow one to play different scenarios which occur on different maps – sometimes at the operational level, etc. instead of strategic. Because of this SC has a much greater amount of replayability than Commander: The Great War. Still, one should derive many hours of gaming from Commander.

Depth

Commander: The Great War’s gameplay is fairly straightforward and without a lot of nuances. You’ll recruit units, research technologies, declare war, fight naval battles, and so on. Strategic Command has much greater depth. Throughout the game one is prompted to make decisions about various scenarios (e.g. send a unit to the Baltic or the Adriatic? support an uprising in Ireland?) and the diplomatic abilities are greater – going beyond just declaring war.

I own Fury / Battlefront’s Strategic Command WWI (and Breakthrough), so how does Commander: The Great War stack up? I’d say Fury’s game is a bit deeper and more challenging, but that Commander: The Great War is more satisfactory as a beers and pretzels wargame Fury’s game also has more replay-ability – the scenarios available are truly different, whereas The Great War’s are all on the same map just beginning in different years.

Historical Depth

I play historical wargames in large part as an educational experience. The games teach me geography, historical events, the names and types of units, who leaders of various units where and so on. On this front Commander is somewhat disappointing with minimal historical events and generic names for units. Strategic Command is much more satisfying.

Gameplay

Commander excels in its speed. SC kills me with how long it takes the AI to execute its turn, each and every turn. By comparison, Commander is straightforward and quick. I haven’t played the games enough to compare the AI capabilities, but Commander is much more enjoyable if you want a fast-paced game.

In addition, Commander’s user interface has some small but beautiful enhancements over SC’s interface. For example, one can go into “repair mode” and repair multiple units with a simple click – no right clicking and selecting max and okay for each and every unit!

Commander also features an event summary at the end of each turn – something which I’ve been asking for since Strategic Command 2 initially came out and which, sadly, SC still lacks!

So Which Game?

It may seem a straightforward choice: Strategic Command wins on most fronts. But, it really depends on the sort of game you are looking for. If you want something fast-paced, go with Commander – if you are looking for more depth and historical events – go with Strategic Command. If you are a new gamer, go with Commander – if you are an experienced gamer choose Strategic Command.

Whichever game you purchase, I doubt you’ll regret it!

A Suggestion to the Developers / Distributors

Ohh, and on another note which I will perhaps write about more fully at some point in the future…I’d like to suggest to companies like Matrix Games and Slitherine that they consider pricing their games differently. Sure, $40 for a game ensures that fewer copies will generate a larger profit, but I’m pretty sure that if you took the games down to say $10/ea. or even $20/ea. the sales would increase exponentially – resulting in greater profitability in the long run. Think Minecraft!

The Mega Sales from PC Game Digital Download Providers.

Strategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg
Image via Wikipedia

Updated! 12/25/10 – 11:36 P.M.

Around Christmas time several of the major digital download providers offer mega-sales on their games library and various individual developers offer sharp discounts on various games. I’m not a huge gamer – but I do love wargames.

Now, when I speak of wargames I’m using my own definition so let me clarify. By wargames I do not mean:

  • First Person Shooters (FPS) – e.g. Combat Arms, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, Wolfenstein, Halo.
  • Real Time Strategy (RTS) – e.g. Company of Heroes, Age of Empires, Warhammer.

I do mean:

  • Games that are generally based around historical time periods and the realistic depiction of combat situations during that period.
  • Games that emphasize brainpower over finger-clicking power.

These genres can sometimes cross over – for example, Mosby’s Confederacy and Medieval II: Total War both include FPS elements but using a pausable engine that allows for significant strategizing (and also emphasizes unit movement rather than character).

Additionally, even within this narrowed genre I still eschew many games. I’m what is sometimes derogatorily referred to as a “beer & pretzels” (though I don’t like or drink beer) gamer. That is, I’m not a big fan of games that will consume my life in order to play them. I avoid games with maps that are too large or that require me to micromanage every aspect of combat and production – or even be aware of every aspect.

In any case, I’ve created a list of some of the pretty cool wargames that are currently available at steep discounts (and I mean really steep!). Spend $20 and you can have enough games to keep you busy for at least a year (no, I’m not getting paid to say this :P).

  • Games I own have an asterisk.
  • Games I’ve thoroughly enjoyed are bolded.
  • Games highest on my “want” list have a plus.
  • Steam:
    • X-Com – I know I said historical, but I’m making an exception for X-Com. These games are based on an alien invasion and mankind’s unified response. They offer both strategic and tactical elements and are genre-defining as far as gameplay. They began many years ago and still continue to be one of the most innovative and fascinating series available. $1.69/ea.
    • *Take Command: Second Manassas – Simulates the American Civil War battle of Second Manasses, also known as Second Bull Run. Offers a 3D pausable RTS interface similar to that found in Sid Meier’s Gettysburg or any of the Total War tactical engines. $2.49.
    • *Ironclads: High Seas – Naval combat in 3D. Naval games are a rarity, games simulating 19th century conflict even more so. $2.49.
    • *Ironclads: American Civil War – Created by the same folks as created above. Focuses on Civil War era naval combat. $2.49.
    • *9th Company: Roots of Terror – A real-time strategy game that covers the Russian 9th companies’ fight in Afghanistan back in the day (1970’s). This may be more of a straight-up RTS, but the storyline is so fascinating (and applicable to the current War on Terror) that I had to add it. $2.49.
    • *Mosby’s Confederacy – A fun, replayable, strategic/tactical simulation of Mosby, a famed and feared Confederate commander, raids and battles during the Civil War. $2.49.
    • *Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms – A great expansion pack for Medieval II: Total War. Adds the New World to the game. Requires Medieval II: Total War to play. $3.74.
    • *Rome: Total War Alexander – An expansion pack adding the Greek conquests of Alexander to the Rome: Total War game. Requires Rome: Total War. $3.74.
    • *Birth of America – A beautiful strategic simulation of the Revolutionary War by AGEOD. I find the map to be too large, beautiful, and detailed for my tastes, but sure to be loved by many. $3.99.
    • *Medieval II: Total War – If you only purchase one game – make it this one. It provides beautiful strategic and tactical simulations, rich cinematic cut-scenes, detailed historical information, and while an amazing game is also an educational experience. – $7.49.
    • *Rome: Total War – Gold – Strategic and tactical simulation of the Roman Empire. $7.49.
    • Rise of Prussia – This game is by AGEOD and probably has too large and beautiful of a map for my likes, but I might have to get it anyways, it sounds so fascinating. $7.49.
  • GamersGate
    • *Two Thrones. $0.50.
    • *Crown of the North. $1.48.
    • *Take Command – 2nd Manassas. $2.48.
    • *Rome Total War: Gold Edition. $2.99.
    • *Imperial Glory. $3.48.
    • Entente: WWI Battlefields. RTS. $3.74.
    • *East India Company. $3.74.
    • Combat Mission: Shock Force. $4.98.
    • Crusader Kings. $4.98.
    • Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come. $4.98.
    • World War 2 Time of Wrath. $5.95.
    • Lords of the Realm 3. $5.99.
    • Civilization IV: Complete. $6.24.
    • Commander: Conquest of the Americas. $7.49.
    • *Medieval II: Total War Gold Edition. $7.46.
    • Squad Assault. $9.98.
    • AGEOD’s American Civil War. $9.99.
    • AGEOD’s Napoleon’s Campaigns. $9.99.
    • AGEOD’s Birth of America II – Wars in America. $9.99.
    • World War One (Paradox). $9.99.
    • +Lionheart King’s Crusade. $14.98.
    • Victoria 2 (Paradox). $19.98.
  • Slitherine
    • *Field of Glory – Click on the title of the game and enter the code ‘fog2010’ to receive 50% off!
  • Matrix Games
    • Advanced Tactics: World War II (33%) – $26.99.
    • American Civil War – The Blue and The Gray (30%) – $13.99.
    • Battle of Britain II – Wings of Victory (30%) – $13.99.
    • Battlefront (33%) – $33.99.
    • Battles in Italy (32%) – $33.99.
    • Battles in Normandy (32%) – $33.99.1WWII, from SSG.
    • +Campaigns on the Danube 1805 & 1809 (30%) – $13.99.2Adanac Command Studies.
    • Carriers at War (32%) – $33.99.
    • Close Combat: Cross of Iron (33%) – $26.99.
    • Close Combat: Modern Tactics (32%) – $20.99.
    • Close Combat: The Longest Day (33%) – $26.99.
    • Close Combat: Wacht am Rhein (33%) – $26.99.
    • Command Ops: Battles from the Bulge (25%) – $59.99.
    • Commander: Europe at War Gold (40%) – $29.99.
    • *Commander: Napoleon at War (40%) – $29.99.
    • Crown of Glory: Emperor’s Edition (32%) – $33.99.
    • Empires in Arms (32%) – $40.99.3Australian Design Group, 2007
    • Flashpoint Germany (32%) – $23.99.
    • +For Liberty (31%) – $23.99.
    • +Forge of Freedom (32%) – $33.99.
    • Gary Grigsby’s Eagle Day to Bombing of the Reich (32%) – $33.99.
    • +Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States (32%) – $33.99.
    • +Gary Grigsby’s World at War: A World Divided (33%) – $26.99.
    • AGEOD’s Great Invasions (30%) – $13.99.
    • +Guns of August 1914-1918 (31%) – $23.99.4Adanac Command Studies.
    • Highway to the Reich (32%) – $33.99.5From Panther Games, released 2003.
    • Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge (30%) – $20.99.
    • Horse and Musket: Volume 1 (30%) – $20.99.6Boku Strategy Games, 2009.
    • +John Tillers Battleground Civil War (30%) – $20.99.7Repackaged from the old Talonsoft titles.
    • +John Tillers Battleground Napoleonic Wars (30%) – $20.99.8Repackaged from the old Talonsoft titles.
    • +John Tillers Campaign Series (31%) – $23.99.9Includes repackaged WWII Talonsoft titles includes East Front, West Front, and Rising Sun scenarios.
    • Kharkov: Disaster on the Donets (32%) – $33.99.
    • Korsun Pocket (30%) – $20.99.
    • *Legion Arena: Gold (33%) – $26.99.
    • Napoleon in Italy (33%) – $26.99.10Hussar Games, 2007.
    • +Norm Koger’s The Operational Art of War III (33%) – $26.99.
    • Officers – The Matrix Edition (30%) – $20.99.
    • Operation Barbarossa – The Struggle for Russia (31%) – $23.99.
    • Panzer Command: Kharkov (33%) – $26.99.
    • Panzer Command: Operation Winter Storm (33%) – $26.99.
    • Steel Panthers: World at War – Generals Edition (33%) – $46.99.
    • Storm Over the Pacific (32%) – $33.99.
    • Tin Soldiers: Alexander the Great (30%) – $20.99.11Koios Works, 2004.
    • Tin Soldiers: Julius Caesar (30%) – $20.99.
    • Uncommon Valor (30%) – $20.99.12This is a Gary Grigsby game originally released in 2002. It covers the Pacific theater at an operational level.
    • War in the Pacific (32%) – $40.99.13Gary Grigsby game, 2004.
    • War in the Pacific – Admirals Edition (33%) – $53.99.
    • War Plan Orange: Dreadnoughts in the Pacific 1922-1930 (31%) – $30.99.14Gary Grigsby game.
    • World War II: General Commander (33%) – $26.99.
    • AGEOD’s World War One Gold (33%) – $26.99.
    • WW2: Time of Wrath (30%) – $20.99.15Available for $5 through Impulse Driven.
  • Strategy First
    • I just received an email from Strategy First with a coupon for 60% off all games using the coupon code “STRATEGYFAN” – it doesn’t say anywhere I can’t share it, so I’m sharing it…A lot of these games are available elsewhere, but I think a few might be unique to Strategy First…(be sure to look under both Strategy and Simulation).
    • +Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin
    • +Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord
    • G.I. Combat
    • Jagged Alliance 2
    • Stalingrad
    • World War I
    • World War II: Frontline Command
    • Great Invasions
    • *Strategic Command 2: Blitzkrieg
    • 1914 Shells of Fury
    • +Ironclads Anglo Russian War 1865
    • +Ironclads Chincha Islands War 1866
    • +Ironclads Schleswig War 1864
    • Rise of Flight: Iron Cross Edition
    • Steel Fury: Kharkov 1942
  • Impulse Driven
    • Crusaders – Thy Kingdom Come – $4.99.
    • World War 2 – Time of Wrath – $4.99.
    • Crusader Kings – $4.99.
    • The Entente – World War I Battlefields – $5.99.
  • GOG
    • *Imperial Glory – $2.99.
    • Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord – $4.99.
  • Direct2Drive
    • Nothing to see over here…pretty disappointing. 66 titles across all genres on sale.

Did I miss any really good games? I’m going to state, off the bat, that I’m usually not a fan of Paradox, AGEOD games b/c they are too hard-core grognard for me, and of 1C games b/c they are usually too RTS for me…but if you have exceptions that I missed, let me know.

Finally, I’d love to see some of the smaller independent vendors throw up some great deals. For example, Matrix Games doesn’t seem to have anything too exciting going on, nor does Battlefront. Suppose I should surf over to Jeff Lapkoff games and see what he is up to…

{Update: Matrix has some pretty decent deals, Battlefront is still disappointing, Lapkoff’s games are always reasonably priced, but no sales…}

P.S. There is a lot of overlap between Steam and GamersGate, check both before making a purchase – you never know which is going to offer the better price, and oftentimes there is a significant price difference (don’t ask me why – I’m just telling ya the way it is, not why…since they are selling the same game!).