GrogHeads Reviews Schwerpunkt’s WWII in Europe

Review by Vance Strickland, 17 January 2015

World War II – Europe, hereafter WWII-E, is Schwerpunkt’s latest offering in the operational level of computer wargaming. Literally a “Mom and Pop” operation, Ron Dockal and his wife KC have released three other games at this level. First there was Russo-German War 41-44 featuring combat on the East Front of WWII. Then came Anglo-German War 39-45 featuring the Western and desert campaigns of WWII. Third was Middle East War 1948-2010 which included the Israeli Wars, Iran-Iraq Wars, the US Iraq Wars, and what-if’s. All have involved operational level combat and all have been well received.

Returning to WWII, Schwerpunkt has combined their first two titles into one new game with a reworked user interface, higher quality map, and well researched OOB’s that has been their signature through their games.

It’s been a long time coming…here’s what it’s all about.

What’s Inside

For the $50 dollar download currently available you get 52 scenarios, 2 of which have been available since release day. There are a total of 102 scenarios planned. That’s about 50 cents a scenario when they are all released by August 2015. They range from small short actions with a few units and about 4 turns, to longer, beefier scenarios that have hundreds of units per side and last up to 34 turns. When the campaign scenarios are released they will be true monsters, including an entire War in Europe scenario played out at 1 week per turn.

The scenario listing is laid out in chronological order with the campaign for that period listed first followed by smaller scenarios in that period. The 3 largest campaigns are listed last in the selection panel.

Great list of scenarios

Great list of scenarios

Both historical battles and some hypothetical ones are included in the mix. Some of the What-If’s include the invasion of Malta, Gibraltar and England, variations on the fighting in North Africa and a promised 1943 D-Day scenario.

There is a fun scenario included that is called the Battle of Britain. As the name suggests you get to fight the epic air battle of 1940. The only ground units in this scenario are targets. As the German player you get to use only air units representing the Luftwaffe forces in France at the time. Your mission is to cause as many losses to the target units as you can in the 9 turns (weeks) of the scenario. As Fighter Command you need to protect the targets as best you can with your limited resources. It’s a nice, different addition for a land warfare game.

Look and Sound

To start, the hand-crafted map of Europe is wonderfully detailed, spreading from 135 miles north of the northern most point in Norway to 68 miles south into the desert below El Agheila in Libya, and from 50 miles west of Casablanca to Baku in the east. At 7.5 miles between hex centers, that’s over 118,000 hexes to wage war upon. The map includes such varied terrain as cities and urban areas, bocage, desert depressions and ridges, vast forests and swamps, hills and huge mountains, rivers, roads and railways. The map is great to look at and it’s very clear as to what terrain is in each hex.

Full shot of Europe

Full shot of Europe

High level tactical map

High level tactical map

Mid level tactical map

Mid level tactical map

Low level tactical map

Low level tactical map

Detailed terrain chart

Detailed terrain chart

A nice feature is the ability to turn off the hexes for a cleaner map view. Having the hex corners marked helps you still see where things are located.

Hexes or no hexes, your choice

Hexes or no hexes, your choice

Next are the counters, which while not as beautiful as the map, each display a huge amount of information that the player can readily use.

Look at all that information!

Look at all that information!

Different information can be displayed at the mid and high level so you can get an overall picture of both force distribution and the entire map in one view.

Unit attack factors at Mid and High map levels

Unit attack factors at Mid and High map levels

Some of the colour choices seem a bit odd though. For instance, the mechanized units for the Germans are coloured black and for the Russians are coloured deep red. Both of these are normally associated with the SS and Guards troops, respectively. It is nice to have your mechanized troops standout, but other colour choices would have been more traditional. Also the mechanised troops for all other combatants are not differently coloured than the rest of their troops. A future patch is going to have a method for everyone to change the colour schemes to their own liking. It will be interesting to see what people come up with.

German mechanised and SS units and a Russian mechanised unit

German mechanised and SS units and a Russian mechanised unit

The Command Panel will show detailed unit information whenever the cursor is over a unit or stack of units. This can include the unit’s name, commander, and even some history like formation date. This is a nice flavour touch that highlights the amount of research that has gone in to creating the game.

Italians in Russia lead by General Giovanni Messe

Italians in Russia lead by General Giovanni Messe

Ever wanted to command the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division as it storms Juno beach on D-Day? Now you can with this fun little addition that allows you to change the name of any commander of any unit in a scenario.

MajGen Gordo Barthheart commanding the Canadian 3rd infantry on to Juno Beach

MajGen Gordo Barthheart commanding the Canadian 3rd infantry on to Juno Beach

Sound…well,there is no sound. None at all. Wait… that is not entirely accurate. There are 8 music files included that can be played as background. But there are no combat sounds or movement sounds. This goes with one of the Schwerpunkt design philosophy statements on their website:

Music and sound are okay for an arcade game, but are distracting for an operational level wargame.

For this level of wargaming command, the sounds of war would not reach the Commander in charge, so it really is not missed.

 

How s it Play

Once a scenario is chosen, a large list of options becomes available. These range from Fog of War or not, to how aggressive or not the AI is, to whether one side has better training and equipment.

Lots of options to choose from

Lots of options to choose from

After choosing options, the game moves straight to the action. Each game turn is played in 3 main phases. First is a WEGO deployment phase that has both sides giving orders to their air and naval forces that is then executed simultaneously. The next main phase is the player with initiative gets to move and then fight with their land forces. And lastly the other side gets to move a combat with their land forces.

This turn structure fits the operational level of this game very well and forces the player to think operationally. During the deploy phase the player must have a plan ready for what their land units will be doing during the turn. They need to plan where the ground support aircraft and /or shore bombardment will be needed, especially if you plan on helping breakthrough elements in combat. Naval supply runs and air dropped supplies need to be planned so their troops have all they need to fight. WWII-E is a really easy game to pick up and start pushing counters around in, but to play well you must think and plan operationally.

The Turn Deploy Phase is the first thing that players need to get used to. This phase is simultaneous or WEGO, and players need to anticipate what the enemy will be doing along with what they need to setup to help their ground troops in the land combat phase.

Air operations are quite varied and allow what is expected for operational level combat.

Possible air operations

Possible air operations

Most players will find it convenient to execute all of their air operations, then complete their naval operations, if any. To order an air unit to perform an action the following steps are needed:

  • Select the stack that contains the air unit to act.
  • Select the unit from the stack in the command panel.
  • Select the operation to be performed.
  • Select the target hex.

That’s four left clicks of the mouse per air unit to perform an action. In a scenario like the Battle of Britain 1940, where the German side has 107 air units, it can take a while to complete the orders for one turn.

This same method is used to order naval units during this phase.

Operations the navy can undertake

Operations the navy can undertake

There is a way to be able to order all your tactical bombing units, for example, a bit faster. It’s called Locked Operation and allows the player to choose the action for all following selected units first. So the player chooses locked operation tactical bombing, then they can just select the unit to do this action and the target hex in quick succession.

During this phase players can also order reinforcements from HQ’s to their subordinates. This simulates additional assets like artillery or specialized companies, engineers etc., or extra aircraft being assigned to the combat units that are below the level of this game’s normal units. It’s a nice abstraction to reduce the already large number of units under the player’s control.

Once all the orders are given for the air and naval units, the player hits the next phase button and the program resolves all the actions planned by both sides. There is no visual for this. No air combat scenes or scenes of naval shore bombardment. The players don’t see the enemy pieces moving around, even if FoW, Fog of War, is not turned on. And no sounds. The players are presented with the ground movement phase screen at the most zoomed out level. The results are saved and can be viewed in reports that the player can request.

Air to ground combat report

Air to ground combat report

This will frustrate some players but does add some to the FoW. The player’s position of operational commander is heightened by having to read the combat reports of the past weeks actions.

In the Ground Movement Phase the player with initiative will move their various units, combat and HQ, using several types of operation.

The different ways to move the troopsof ground movement types

The different ways to move the troopsof ground movement types

Each type has its strengths and drawbacks that must be used correctly to advance the troops. Move to Exploit, for example, gives a unit the ability to use its movement factor 3 times in one turn and bypass enemy zones of control. But the unit cannot dig-in nor attack in the following Combat Phase and can leave the unit out of supply if a path is not cleared by other units. This can be used for breakthroughs and large encirclements when used properly.

Ground units are moved using the method described above for assigning missions to air and naval units. It can again be sped up by using the Locked Operations and performing all Move to Attack, for example, in sequence.

The Combat Phase comes next for the player with initiative. All combat units that didn’t move or that Moved to Attack can attack any adjacent enemy units. Combat has various types as well, based on how much damage the player wants to inflict and absorb.

Different ways to do damage to the enemyof combat types

Different ways to do damage to the enemyof combat types

Attacks are carried out by selecting the enemy unit to be attacked, selecting the type of attack, and then selecting the adjacent units to attack with. The attackers can include any air units that were given Ground Support missions and naval units with Shore Bombardment missions in the previous Deploy Phase.

All the attack factors are added along with all modifiers like Training and Experience, multiple HQ’s , combat losses , etc. Then all the defence factors are totaled including some of the above and terrain and dug-in status. These are compared and reduced to odds. Two 6 sided die are rolled and added and the value is cross referenced on the combat CRT.

The Combat Results Table can be bloodyof CRT

The Combat Results Table can be bloodyof CRT

A combat results table is presented to the player to show the outcome. A detailed combat report is also available.

Not a great attack for the Italiansof combat results

Not a great attack for the Italiansof combat results

Detailed breakdown of what happenedof detailed combat report

Detailed breakdown of what happenedof detailed combat report

If the combat involved mechanized attackers and the odds were 5 to 1 or better and the defender had to retreat, the mechanised attackers can move and fight again. There is also a Combat Move allowed to units that didn’t move in the previous move phase or that used Move to Combat. If the defender retreats from its hex because of combat, an attacker will automatically advance into the vacated hex.

Each side in a scenario is given a certain number of attack operations it’s allowed to perform. This simulates supply buildup restrictions and other factors that would keep every unit from attacking every single turn. This works well to make the player focus their attacks where they are needed and to use other methods of gaining ground where required.

Once all the current player’s attacks are complete, the phase is advanced to the non-initiative players Movement Phase then Combat Phase. When playing against the AI, the human player will not see the AI’s moves of combats until the next phase. Again this adds to the FoW but will surely infuriate some players.

When completed the game advances to the next turn and the start of the Deploy Phase again.

During all these phases, the player has to keep in mind the flow of supplies. Units need to have a connected path of hexes back to a friendly supply source unblocked by enemy units or ZOC’s,. Supply flows down rail lines and out a certain distance across other terrain. New to this game is that rail gauge changing is now an automated behind the scenes operation. Temporary sources can be created by air or naval units with supply missions. These can be vital to help survive in a pocket because unsupplied units slowly lose strength and take twice as much damage when attacked. Supply tracing is calculated at the end of every turn after the final combat phase.

Weather is also a factor in all operations. Rain can hamper the movment of both supplies and troops. Storms can ground aircraft and make life really miserable for the troops in combat.

Reading Material

Presently, there is only a series on in-game html help pages for a manual. They are very detailed and give all the information needed to play. There is also a tutorial page that gives step by step instructions on how to proceed through a turn in one of the scenarios. Another page is Design Notes on how the combat and movement factors for each type of unit were derived and notes for each scenario that include reference material and scenario specific instructions. An extensive bibliography is also included.

A PDF file of a 2-sided user reference card is included with the download. Very handy to print out and keep nearby while playing.

Later in 2015, a paper manual and reference card will be available for an additional $10.

Yeah, but is it worth it?

Every piece of software released today has bugs and WWII-E is no exception. There are a few scenario killing bugs in a couple of scenarios. There are some OOB errors that sharp eyed players have found. But since the game’s release on December 1, Schwerpunkt has already released two quick patches and a couple more scenarios. This is the great support Ron Dockal gives to his games. Think of its current state as late beta. But this is what fans of Schwerpunkt wanted when Mr. Dockal asked if he should release in Dec. 2014 or wait until summer of 2015.

The user interface will be the greatest hurdle to overcome for just about any player of this game. It is unlike any other UI and really takes some work to get used to. It’s vastly improved over the UI in AGW but will still make some people pull their hair out.

Once past these two negatives there is an astoundingly great operational level wargame to be found. It plays like the monster operational board games but with all the rules overhead and number crunching done by the computer.

The game itself is easy to play. The rules are simple and straight forward. But it’s what can be done within the rule set that makes this a great game. It really requires the player think ahead and plan out the coming weeks’ operations. Where are the air assets going to be needed after all the ground units have moved and start fighting the enemy? How do they keep open vital supply lines or use air and naval assets to create temporary supply sources?

There is a ton of operational gaming in this program fromgreat sweeping battles f early in the war to the very final battles in Germany. This is a Grog’s game and not for the faint of heart or for those looking for a light wargame. Those willing to overcome the UI and learn the interconnectedness of the different combat elements available, it is a very fun and rewarding game to play.


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3 Responses to GrogHeads Reviews Schwerpunkt’s WWII in Europe

  1. Gamer2015 says:

    No sound though. Its a very dull play. I at least expected…SOMETHING

  2. Simon P says:

    Two questions:
    1. How does PBEM work?
    2. Is the AI good or just useful as a learning tool?

    • Vance says:

      1. PBEM is just a file exchange. You play your phase, program saves a file, and send the file to your opponent. So for one turn you have 3 file transfers.

      2. The AI is Just OK. It’s much better on defence than attacking. It’s attacking is better on the East Front than the West.

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