The Whole War In A Box

World In Flames; Games; 3 (2 introductory, 1 one map campaign), 30 hours playing. World War 2; Games; 6 (3 teaching, 2 introductory, 2 short), 12 hours playing.

These 2 games offer the whole show from Poland to the bomb in Europe and the Pacific, a pretty tall order and some darned heavy boxes. TSR's WW2 comes in 2 separate boxes for the 2 theatres and I have to admit that I have not even seen let alone played the PTO half, all my comments refer to the ETO or Europe box but the 2 games have the same system and that is what is under consideration here.

In both cases it is the same sort of game at a roughly similar scale that is on offer, ruleswise the same system can handle the different theatres of combat, basically the same weapons were used by all sides. The big drawback of this sort of game lies in the ground scale, if the Russian front is of a manageable size France is going to be pretty damn small. Back in the 70's games like War In Europe addressed the problem by having a map sized France but a huge Russia, "The Eagle and The Sun" is a return to this genre. The 2 games considered here keep to a manageable map size, Europe is not much bigger than in the oldie "3rd Reich", front lines measure up as follows for 1938.

Game/Front USSR/Poland France/Germany

Third Reich 13 not known

World In Flames 16 6

World War 2 17 5

At these sort of game areas the projection of the globe is relevant and any sort of hex scale will be true for 1 part of the map but not all of it. Also the weather on 1 part of the map may be completely different elsewhere, even clear and winter at the same time, both games divide the globe into weather zones to handle this. The Pacific map of WIF is double the scale of Europe meaning that units move half as far with the same movement allowance. More on movement later the point here is to show the sort of playing areas in use, the shorter scenarios only use part of the maps becoming a type of micro game in a mega box. I have included reference to 3R because although it is rather old (1974) it is well known, if constant articles in the General can be believed, note that I do not own a copy.

The appeal of this sort of game is to play out the whole show, see the big picture as opposed to the many good W~2 games that only deal with a single campaign. There is a wide strategic choice, who to attack after the Polandís and Dutch East Indies have been wiped and so on. Players can also build up forces to their own designs, WIF offers more in this direction but remember to be flexible, my Americans had plenty of troops sat in the USA because I had not built enough transports to get them to the front. In short these are games for budding megalomaniacs. The Strategic games offer the common attack then hold type of game, the Axis starts small and has to overrun lots of enemy or even neutral territory before the allies can build up any sort of a defence. There is a chance of an axis victory if most of Europe and Asia are occupied, if this does not happen the Axis has to hold on to as much as possible until August 1945.

Both games offer the whole shebang and the option of starting later in the war and going in until the end, WIF has 2 scenarios covering a single theatre on 1 map but there is no option to start either of these late. In neither game is there any mechanism to stop the game early short of an outright victory by either side, the yearly targets of Civil War are missing here, once you've started you have to finish. Of course gamers can guess realistic attainments for say 1942 based on the starting positions for later scenarios and a bit of background knowledge. This will mean playing for many hours without knowing how fair these guessed victory conditions are. This is OK for a cheapo magazine sort of game but I expect more from a full price cellophane job. In any campaign of WW2 there must be 1 of 3 possible endings, an outright win by the axis or allies before game end or a decision based on points at the end of Aug 1945. If the third option becomes operative i.e.; it is 1943 and the game is still even, then the famous "rush for victory" comes into play. 1st building plans have to change, if it takes 2 years to build a carrier (WIF), there is no point laying any down with less than 2 years to count up time. So as the game draws to a close the list of things worth building drops. Second, there will come a time nearer to the end when there is no point keeping a reserve for contingencies, throw the lot in. For example the Japanese fleet (if still afloat) may as well sally out as hide in Japan, no matter how likely the result. This sort of gameplay is common to a good many games, production is worst affected, the USA did not give up carrier production in 1943 but had them pencilled in well into 1946, in both games both sides will turn to short term goals in the end game phase. The victory conditions for both games are simple, basically knock out the opposition, in WIF that means reducing them to less than 5 of 40 victory cities (London, Tokyo etc.). Oddly the I map jobs require < 2 victory cities, in that case the Japs won WW2, 2 or less seems a better aim (they still won when I played) In the TSR game the final tally is reckoned by counting who has the most city resource hexes on the board, this includes Russia, so the Axis will have to have done very well to win here, it should be possible to concede when the Axis are down to 1/3 of these with no hope of expanding again.

So much for the big scenarios, if you have no plans to even think about playing a campaign at least once there is not much point in buying these games. It is a bonus to be able to play the games while dreaming of this, enter the shorter scenario, there is no doubt that WW2 wins on this front. WIF offers two 3 hour games, the initial invasion of the USSR and the Pacific in late 1942, I have played both of these and they are OK but this is all you get, the only way forwards is onto the campaigns. ~2 offers 11 shorter scenarios but 3 of these are 1/2 hour learning scenarios and boy did I need them. Still this leaves 8 games of about 6 hours playing time, using only portions of the map, due to an unbelievable cock up some charts are only on 1 map so you will need the other parts handy. Shorter scenarios do save time but still use most of the rules and as at the end of the campaigns there is no incentive to plan for a longer war. For instance, it is 1940, the WW2 Blitzkrieg mini game, and the Germans march into France, it pays the French fleet to find the German ships and sink them. The French may not come out of this very well and may need some British help but because France will probably fall anyway the loss is no worry.

With the German navy out of the way the German cannot invade England or Norway, except by air or luckily sneaking naval transports past the allies. Now the German can only win a minor victory in this scenario, of course his navy is safe if it stays in port but what is the good of having a navy if it sits in port.

All these strategic situations are common to both games and probably any other game of this type that has been or will be designed. Supposing the reader still wants to go for this sort of thing, invading Poland and so forth or even if he is still awake, I will go into the differences between the game systems.

The global picture and the idea of production is much the same, it is the mechanisms for land and sea that separate these 2, airpower is pretty standard. Both games are multi-impulse, move a few units fight a little then the other player reacts, he does not have to read a book while his opponent spends hours over his move. In game terms this means that some units will have finished for a turn but others will have done nothing. There is also a limited ability to react to an action during an opponentís move, this is more important in the air and naval theatres. In WW2 both sides buy offensives in the same way as combat units, players alternate using offensives to move units until they have none left or wish to stop. Players must buy offensives for 3 turns at a time but if they run out can buy more at double the cost at any time. In WIF each turn is divided into impulses each player taking turns to act, a poor weather roll (based on weather in Europe, it is probably sunny in the S. Pacific) will lead to less impulses in a turn, shortening it. The exact number of impulses in a turn will vary, a D6 is rolled at the end of each and if equal to a steadily increasing number the turn is over. Either side may pass instead of moving and reduce this die roll by 2 at the risk of rolling low and the other side getting 2 turns in a row.

Ground warfare is the simplest medium and without a doubt the big difference between the 2 games is that W~~2 counters are 2 step jobs but in WIF combat units have only 1 step. Not much difference you may say except that units have more staying power in WW2 and that a counter is flipped to its back to show it has finished for the turn in WIF but must have a marker placed on it in W~2 (bigger stacks to you). Of course if things were as simple as that this would not be simulation gaming, armour is an exception (it would be). In W~2 it can move and fight twice in an impulse, in WIF a good die result can leave armour face up after a combat and ready to go again in a later impulse of the same turn. Note that in WW2 once a unit is noted as part of an offensive it cannot be used in a later offensive, even if it never moved or fought when it was activated. In WIF ground units get a better deal, combat flips the attacker and sometimes the defender but movement does not, so rear area troops gradually plod to the front. Both games allow a limited number of unlimited distance rail moves.

Both games have command units, in WIF they are essential for tracing supply and have a one-use ability to flip units back to their active sides. In WW2 there are 2 flavours of command units, HQ's, helpful in activating units for offensives and generals, a sort of mini HQ that also gives a boost to tank attacks. I can safely say that in both games they are more of a hindrance than help.

So what does all this mean on the hexgrid, in WIF a single unit is very vulnerable to high odds attacks by armour who will wipe it and probably remain face up to attack again. The obvious solution is 2 high stacks (the maximum) spaced 1 hex apart with a reserve to plug the holes and keep HQ's handy for reactivating units and to keep supply lanes open.

In W~2 it also pays to pack the cardboard thick and deep or 1 offensive will cut a hole in the line and later ones will be used to pour through it. The trick is not to spend all the cash (build points) in the construction phase, convert plenty to offensives, it is possible to run out of offensives and have no cash in the kitty to buy more. If the opponent still has plenty he will keep attacking and advancing while there is little that can be done to stop him. In this game lending of build points between allies is very limited so France may be broke while the UK can have plenty of points but be unable to help.

Believe it or not this land element is pretty straightforward stuff, long but nothing unusual, air units fly around within set ranges helping attack and defence and bombing anything else, there is no need to elaborate further. Alas in both games naval affairs take a lot of head scratching, a cross between hexes and areas is used. The systems have little in common so I will look at them one at a time starting with WW2. Naval units here are 1/2 the size of those in WIF, they build in 1/2 the time but stacks are twice the height. Convoy warfare is abstracted out, various convoy routes are marked on the map these deliver a set number of points if open, and submarines raid the routes and reduce the build points received each turn. To stop the subs and the odd surface raider, stacks of 8 (yes 8 but carriers count as 4 each) naval vessels are used to reduce the dice roll. In the Atlantic the German rolls 2D6 for each sub, on a roll of 1 or less it is damaged, if not the attack succeeds, the roll is reduced by 1 for each escort stack in the area. It does not take good maths to see that if the convoys are to be kept open a lot of ships will be on escort duty, as indeed they were but rather than have all these stacks all this could have been factored into a table of some sort.

Although most of the map is covered in hexes, the sea is also divided into areas, it usually costs 5 MP's to enter an area but the bigger areas have a higher threshold. An unlimited number of ships from both sides can fit into or pass through an area, combat will only occur if 1 side searches for and finds the other. One side moves all his ships but the other player can intercept with stacks in the same sea area or in an adjacent coast or port. The searcher divides his force into stacks of at least 3 units and rolls a D6 needing a 6 to find the enemy.

1 die is rolled for each stack and there is a +1 for each stack, some of the bigger areas have a modifier for searching. The more stacks the better chance of finding the enemy but if stacks are too weak and only a few find the enemy they may be wiped, so caution is needed. Combat lasts 2 rounds, after that a moving force that has been attacked can continue to move possibly facing further interceptions. By staying still a side that moved 2nd can thus avoid any further attacks after the 1st, minimising the damage if he came off badly in the combat.

Turning to WIF, the seas have hex dots to guide air units passing through but no hexes, although they are still divided into areas. In each area is a block of 4 numbered (0 to 3) boxes. It costs a naval unit 1 MP to leave port into the surrounding area and 1 MP to cross to the next area. When the unit stops it is put into the box relevant to its remaining MP's, so if it has used 2 MP's out of 4, it sits in the 2 box of its destination area. These boxes affect searching, both sides can sit in the same area or even the same box but to find each other they must roll less than the number of the box they sit in, a very high roll results in a side being surprised, conferring a slight disadvantage in combat. Combat lasts an unlimited number of rounds but ships must search for each other anew between each round, either side may abort between rounds and return to port (ending the stacks movement for the 2 month turn). Frequently both sides will lose each other and sit in the same box after combat, either can voluntarily return to port in a later move or move more ships into the same area and initiate further naval combat, if they can find the enemy. It is possible to have a long running battle of attrition with both sides moving in new ships to start new combats, this can be costly and it is often best just to bug out. Note that the side with most naval units in an area blocks the supply of all opposing units on islands in the area (Japan itself is an exception being an ultimate supply source). If the islands include a key naval base (Truk perhaps) there is an incentive to throw in some more ships to isolate the islands, the USA can gain most here but can also lose a lot of ships.

I do not wish to bore the reader any more by harping on too long about game mechanisms, I can put up with the creakiest of mechanisms if the game plays well, if it bears a little relation to history thatís a bonus. I hope the above gives some idea of the rules you get in the boxes, I have tried to give both games equal plugging but the reader has probably guessed that on most counts WIF comes up on top. It is a playerís game, the scenario booklet includes ample notes on play and strategy. I find this sort of thing useful, it gives an idea of what can be done where the rules don't say if you can or can't. For example a transport stack moves into a sea area and lands marines onto the coast, assume they survive, in the next naval action they can reboard the transports (that do not a move) and invade another hex in the next land phase. This was gathered from the notes, I would not have guessed it from the rules, these notes also make a good read when not playing. For its sins WW2 includes a booklet detailing the 1st move of the campaign, this has plenty of examples to help learning the rules. It aims to be more serious than WIF, which includes a number of games mechanisms with no root in history, the old solution of devising a rule then trying to justify it. Consider the offensive chit that can be bought (though not cheaply) with build points, it confers an advantage to armour and air power and nulls the advantage of defending behind rivers. This only lasts for 1 impulse and is handy for offensives (what else), it is really a games trick to give major attacks a chance of succeeding. Much detail in this size of game will be lost if the scale is to remain almost manageable, entire battles such as that at Guadacanal may not occur because the scale of units involved is too small to represent here. WW2 has the smaller naval scale and more counter types, Generals, airfields and fortification markers (as opposed to those printed on the map) are all absent in WIF. Still the small increase in detail is not worth the extra work, WIF plays better and in the final analysis that is what counts.