Making History: The First World War is proving to be an excellent addition to the Great War’s limited library of wargames

This article is a ‘first look’ at an Early Access (EA) version of Factus Games’ Making History: The First World War (for this article FWW). Good thing, too, because it didn’t take me long to realize that FWW is absolutely a Grognard level wargame and is gonna need a lot of time investment to play right.

Some dozens of hours later I am still learning the ropes, so expect a detailed analysis and review of how this thing works both historically and competitively after it drops for real in about three – four months.

Until then, here is what I have to report.

Basics and Visuals

FWW is a region based grand strategy wargame covering the entire globe, Ireland to Japan and everything in between. By that I mean the game is concerned with running the entire conflict by ministry of war level decision making and managing national level resources to obtain victory. The ‘grand’ part means that your strategy not only deals with the military part of the equation, but everything else such as the economy, diplomacy, research, and internal social issues.

Yes, it’s not just about infantry divisions, but ensuring you have enough bullets manufactured to supply them and enough Bratwurst to feed them. As with many games of this ilk, the emphasis is more on resource management than shooting stuff, so if you like math, you will absolutely love FWW. I just wish they had included a calculator internal to the game (sigh) to go along with the $19.99 price tag, because FWW is on sale right now, both direct and on Steam.

As an EA production, you only get one scenario to play and this starts the festivities in July 1914, about a month before everybody in Europe goes bat shit crazy and starts lobbing artillery rounds. You can play as any of the minor states or great powers, but I chose Austria-Hungary because this empire is rarely considered and certainly an underdog. Not to worry, however, as being the sneaky sort that I am, I did a search of the game’s file tree and located other modules titled World, the Balkan Wars and Russian Revolution. Obviously, stay tuned.

The visuals are stunning, and also like many games at this level of command the use of NATO unit symbology has been replaced by 3D models. The models are extremely accurate and detailed, easily usable in any tactical or battlefield level game you might create. Because they might look a little too similar to fixed location icons (Moslem cities have Mosques – yes, that accurate), a small national symbol such as the French red-white-blue roundel serves as a base for military formations. 

Yet these same combat figures are perhaps my only concern so far. I’ve always disliked the look from a personal perspective, primarily because they are so far out of scale with the cities and other symbols on the map, because now the combat symbology is so far out of scale with each other and because a single Soldat just doesn’t look like an entire army. Also, because you can split military formations in this game, a quick glance may be unable to differentiate between a brigade or an entire corps given they use the same stolid Hauptfeldwebel  or similar to represent it.

The UI, however, is really first class. It is logically laid out and competently segregated into various functions. Each of the five windows thereof on the screen provides just what you need to know with easy to read badges very appropriate to the subject matter. It exudes a post-Victorian, pre-Guns of August ambiance helped just a skosh by the Steampunk theme I use on my PC. By that I mean it simply looks very professional and very, very military in its color scheme and formatting. Now add to this a soundtrack that can at once be both victorious and somber, running the gamut between Handel’s Sarabande and the more epic For Valour. OK, they’re OGG files and who seriously does that anymore, but in combination it really immerses the player into the game to the point you’ll be wearing a Pickelhaube at dinner.

Getting Started

The EA version of FWW does not directly come with a handbook, but you can download the old 2014 Making History: the Great War manual, and this does help a lot. Otherwise you need to pace yourself through the tutorial, and though it seems incomplete – outside the following it morphs into tooltips as you play – I do like the way it works. The tutorial uses a popup to describe and walk you through all five control panels that lay along the edges of the game screen, and highlights the item in question with a semi-transparent, blinking green hue. Although you can’t fold them off screen, none of the panels are obtrusive and block the map. At the top is an Information Bar of your current resource status by type (as in rail capacity for example) and whether you can expect to see an increase or decrease in this area next turn.

Center right is a Summary Panel which displays data on what projects were completed this turn with settings allowing you to designate which information you see. A Notification Popup conveys messages about things going on around the world and within your continental neck of the woods. Here one might see news of a revolution in the nationalistic Republic of Northern Epirus or Senussi Order (because, no joke, they really are in the game). Bottom right is the Control Panel that allows you to change the type of map displayed, resource vs demographic for example, and allows a detailed look at various types of resource hubs. There is one for the player’s own country in general and several more for things like production and diplomacy.

The last, Selection Panel is located bottom left and covers the four entities within FFW that are allowed to conduct so-called ‘Actions’. These four are military Units, Cities, Regions, and the entire Nation the gamer is playing. Click on any of these on the map and a popup will display allowing you to do things like build – or destroy – production facilities and the cost of doing so which is obviously deducted from your resource pool at the appropriate time. And yes, we are talking detail here. Build a steel mill? Well, piffle. We’re talking about options like slaughterhouses, canning factories and even distilleries (Schnapps fur die Truppen, mein Oberstleutnant? Jawohl!). Click on an area, and you can destroy existing infrastructure, or build new infrastructure such as air bases or increase the Region’s railroad density. Like most of the war economy created, the railroads are not actually placed on the map, but the fact they exist in, say, Upper Austria, impacts how far and how many military units will move each turn. 

Military units are similar but have a couple or three unique characteristics. First, they can split into subordinate formations. The Austrian 7th Army at Banat actually consists of a Landwehr-Infanterie-Division, a regular Infanterie-Division and a Kavallerie-Division. Of particular note is that two of these units are labelled with a symbol indicating they are part of the Austrian Gemeinsame Armee (the national army) as opposed to the more ethnically based kaiserlich-königliche Landwehr or Magyar Királyi Honvédség. I found a lot of regional ethic symbols on the various Austrian units checked, so this seems to confirm the game looks at ethnicity and social structure to determine things like combat values. Finally, military units can move by simply clicking on the formation, clicking on the destination region and then choosing from a popup whether you want them to march overland, use roads or Eisenbahn (and remember you do have a rail capacity). Obviously, entering a region containing an enemy military formation causes combat.

The player can do all this in any order he pleases, then simply clicks on the Next Turn button to see resources added or deducted, and combat resolved. The computer AI then responds and all is set for the next turn of which there seem to be 300 total for the grand so-called campaign.

In Conclusion

This is a work in progress, but my initial impression is that while this may not be a complex or difficult game to play, it will certainly be a very long game to play. The player is not only the head of state, but the commander in chief of his military as well as every cabinet minister the national government depends on to run. There is simply so much to do, even if the actual functions performed are not that hard to accomplish. 

Admittedly the game does have a few strategically (see what I did there) placed pieces of chrome that give FWW a unique personality all its own. I especially liked judging victory in three categories (Empire, Alliance, Ideology) as opposed to one, and I thought excluding enemy formations from the map unless their deployment Region abutted one of those owned by the player was a really nice limited intel touch. Nevertheless, if there was one change I could make right now it would be an option to allow the AI to control some of the resource management such as all diplomatic efforts. No matter how you slice it, as currently designed stands now the gamer is going to be a very busy guy.

But that’s a few months down the road, and changes are coming fast and furious for the game. I’ve seen one that will force a German AI to go all Schlieffen on the Entente in 1914, and another hit the day I wrote this tome. So stand by because the best for this simulation – its more than a wargame – may well be yet to come.

Making History: The First World War was launched on Steam Early Access on September 4th, 2020. At the time of writing, it was due to remain there for no more than four months, which would put a full release sometime around January 2021.