An engine that spans the centuries with accurate historical battles has been the Philosophers Stone for developers since the dawn of computer gaming. Several have tried, most have failed. Strategiae has taken a turn a bat with Wars Across The World using a fascinating new system. Fascination is not good enough, though, if the scenarios don’t represent history to at least some degree. Can this new system succeed where others have failed?
Note: Our sister website, Pocket Tactics, published a review of the mobile version of this game in February 2019. Things seem to have been improved somewhat since this review was originally written, so some of the criticism regarding technical performance may now be out of date.
A Map for all Ages
Although the scenarios tend to use the names of battles, the area-based maps cover seventeen campaigns – playable from both sides – from Sicily in 264 B.C. to the guerilla fight in Mali in 2012.. The terrain is more evocative rather than pretty. Different ages have different scales and features. Hence, the Hastings scenario covers Britain as well as parts of Normandy and Scandinavia while Austerlitz just covers west central Germany down to Lombardy and the Berlin 1945 game covers just Berlin and its suburbs. Forests, roads, rivers, lakes, bridges, fords, sand dunes, wadis and mountains are clearly if simply shown. Structures such as cities and forts are marked with images appropriate to the period portrayed, i.e. medieval castles, eighteenth-century buildings, and modern cities. The zoom and scroll functions allow players to make informed moves. Reachable areas become blue while inaccessible ones are scarlet. If a move into an area would cause a battle, the area turns orange and the cursor becomes a gunsight. Depiction of supply status is nicely exhibited by red stripes on the map for no supply for the player and green ones for good supply.
Counters are reminiscent of board games not a bad thing in itself. Leaders have portraits of themselves with numbers for movement, combat, morale effect and stars for rank. These images are very detailed and colorful. Combat units are equally detailed but with more information. The usual movement, combat and morale values are augmented with dots for steps, the name of the unit, an indicator for specialized units and codes for the unit’s ability such as armor, transport, etc. Norman knight, the Old Guard and guerillas are depicted in accurate uniforms and gear. Ships and planes are exquisitely represented. Right clicking on a unit provides even more information.
However, the most interesting graphic may be the event cards. Each game and each side has unique packs. The events from each have a well-done depiction of the event so that a Norman cavalry charge card has warhorses carrying chain-mailed knights thundering into the enemy. The effects of the card are explained in easily read text a most welcome deviation from recent eye-straining fonts in other games. A glow around the card indicates ones that must be played in that phase.
Sound effects are minimal with the usual tromps and trots for movement and explosions, clanks and screams for combat. The music is pleasant and not intrusive. The 116-page tutorial is comprehensive and well-written with good illustrations. The two-turn tutorial game teaches the basics well.
Pick a Card, Any Card
The scale of play differs with each game but each turn is around two days with units representing anything from squadrons and regiments to divisions. Units can be stacked according to terrain type. Clicking on a stack brings up a bar showing all leaders and units present. Units can be moved from this bar to create a garrison or a new stack. This move is important not only to create flexible operational moves but also to get large stacks like Le Grande Armee over rivers.
Turns are composed of phases but these can be asymmetrical according to the game. The constant phases are card draw, supply and land movement. The phases that occur at different times are naval movement, air and air defense movement, reinforcement, income, maintenance and purchase. Card draws are a simple matter of cards appearing at random from the pack on the right of the screen to the middle to be read. A click sends the card to the player’s hand. If the hand is over five cards, one must be discarded. Supply is just a glance at the supply stripes mentioned above. If a unit is out of supply, a window pops up reminding the player the unit loses abilities and will be eliminated next turn. These negative effects can be negated in the short term if a supply unit is in the stack.
Land movement is usually a drop and drag to an accessible area but stack size or terrain sometimes prohibit simple moves. In these cases, moving units singly may do the trick. Stacks cannot be moved into an area where a friendly unit has already initiated a battle. Stacks must have a leader to move into an enemy-occupied area. Units in ports or airfields can be loaded on to ships and planes for movement to be unloaded the next turn. Sea and air moves have the same mechanics except air units can make attack and defense moves in the same turn.
The economic phase of games doesn’t appear each turn of every game but is geared to the timescale of the scenario. Income is derived from cities, regions and cards. Maintenance must be paid on ships, planes and large stacks. Purchases can include more cards, loss replacements and new units. Balances are carried over.
Battle is handled by the computer but in such a way that players feel more involved than they actually are. First, players must choose which battle to fight first; an important decision because all combat cards must be played in the first battle. Examples of these cards are having good leaders involved or special units affecting the outcome. Play then turns to the battle screen where the attacking counters are lined up on the left and defenders on the right. Support units such as supply and artillery are in the margin and combat modifiers for them as well as for terrain, leaders and morale are spelled out above the field. A ten-sided die spins for each counter and combat effects happen if the result is equal to or less than the unit’s combat value. The modified die results appear on the counters with misses shown in red, step hits in green and causing panic in yellow. After the first round, the player removes any panicked unit from the field at his choice and then chooses which units take step losses. The battle continues until one side routs, panics or is eliminated. Leaders are checked for wounds or death. If the battle takes place near a city, a siege attempt is made with another ten-sided die role.
Games are won through victory points earned via winning big battles, taking cities and harming enemy leaders. Thus, a game can see-saw until one side hits the magic victory point total. Adding to uncertainty in some games is the concept of “tension”. Players may be too successful causing a powerful heretofore neutral to enter the game on the opposing side. For example, the UN really shouldn’t tick off China in the Korea 1950 game nor should players indulge in biochemical or tactical nuclear warfare.
Through the clever use of cards and accurate broad-brush historical situations, Wars Across The World’s system does indeed accomplish its goal of a system covering all of history and an editor is promised. However, three flaws will give the public pause. Hotseat is the only multiplay option and the AI is reckless to the point of suicide regardless of which of the three levels of play picked. More importantly, game-crashing bugs abound in the majority of scenarios indicating a lack of rigorous testing. Strategiae support has been very good about squashing reported bugs but more patches are necessary. Gamers should monitor the patch reports on Steam because, if the bugs are fixed, this game can go far.