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GrogHeads Reviews Gary Grigsby’s War in the West

The epic struggle drags across Europe

Michael Eckenfels, 21 February 2015

Scratching the proverbial wargaming itch is a difficult proposition. Often, that itch is in the most hard-to-reach place, where only the right combinations will relieve it. I’ve found that most 2 by 3 Games’ products are very akin to the perfect backscratcher…at leastfor me. Some sizes may not fit all, and not all 2 by 3 Games’ products will likely be popular with all wargamers. And yet, with Gary Grigsby’s War in the West (hereafter referred to as WitW), they’ve managed to craft a really good wargame back-scratcher.

PRESENTATION

Covering major campaigns from 1943 on in Western Europe and North Africa, WitW is all about the struggle of the Western Allies versus the Germans and Italians. The earliest scenario, and conveniently the introductory one, is Operation Husky. With a fairly small number of counters, this simulation of the invasion of Sicily is a great way to get introduced to the system without being overwhelmed. However, there is plenty of detail under the hood (and even quite a bit that spills out from under the hood), which makes the frame in which it is presented so much the better.

 

Hapless Sicily, the eve before the Allied invasion.

Hapless Sicily, the eve before the Allied invasion.

To me, how a game is presented is as important – if not more so – than the actual game itself. If I’m not drawn in by the graphics and animation, I have an uphill battle to fight when it comes to liking a game. Fortunately, WitW is a terrific thing to behold. The maps are well-rendered, the units are clean, simple, and easy to read, and some aspects of the air campaign are easy to interpret. The only thing I’ve had a difficult time with is the reporting aspect, which is not very intuitive to interpret. When tons of stats are thrown at me to report on, say, results of the air campaign for the current Turn, I don’t know if I had a good turn or a bad one simply by looking at a bunch of numbers. Of course, if the Germans suffer more losses than I do, I think I’ve done well enough – key words being ‘I think.’

However, once used to reading these reports, it becomes something of an enjoyable thing to do. This actually brought me back to simpler times and games like Crusade in Europe and Decision in the Desert, where numbers of e-losses in men and tanks were dutifully displayed for my grogging pleasure. Those games, however, are like diet chocolate chip cookies compared with super-thick and rich chocolate cake. I hate to make that analogy, but the level of reporting detail in WitW is indeed rich and takes some getting used to if consumed regularly.

Air phase results – a lot of devil in the details here.

Air phase results – a lot of devil in the details here.

 

The interface is completely mouse-driven, though there are key shortcuts if you prefer to command a keyboard over a mouse. Some keystrokes are going to be essential to running the game efficiently, and learning them might be daunting as there are a lot of them. However, I found myself learning a handful and using them more often than others.

GAMEPLAY

First off, this game is titanic in scope (though not in water-tightness, fortunately for Matrix and 2 by 3). Considering how many moving parts there must be and how much coding went into making this work right…well, I don’t even want to think about it. Given its size, a review of 10,000 words could probably barely scratch the surface, so at several points I even wondered if I COULD write a review of this game and do it proper justice. My OCD wants to cover every nook and cranny for you, but as neither of us has time to sit through a reading marathon, I’ll do my best.

 

Airborne drop on Sicily by British airborne forces.

Airborne drop on Sicily by British airborne forces.

 

The game is a turn-based simulation of the Western Front and the North African front, from 1943 through mid-1945. Players can choose to either run the Western Allies’ war effort, or the more challenging Axis side instead. Each turn is divided into two phases, Air Planning and Ground Movement, which sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot to each phase. I’ll talk about each one briefly here.

There’s a lot going on while the air turn runs.

There’s a lot going on while the air turn runs.

The first phase is the Air Planning phase, where you make high-level decisions on par with a C-in-C of your side. You pick where you want your air efforts to concentrate, such as on airfields, ports, railyards, interdiction, and so on. You’ll also control your strategic air forces by directing them to concentrate on target types as well, which include a wide variety of industries like aircraft, oil, fuel, vehicles, armaments, and so forth. The choices are simple – High, Medium, Low, or No Effort. Once you set these choices, the AI takes over and will make the tactical decisions necessary to carry out your directives.

The Sicily invasion begins.

The Sicily invasion begins.

“Why would I want to leave this in the control of the AI,” you may ask? Well, for one, the AI is very competent. I’ve not seen it make dumb decisions, at least on the Allied side. So, if you’re of a mind to ignore AI competency, feel free to dive in and meddle with your electronic underling’s plans. Yes, this is a thing – you can tweak just about any air mission, coverage area, squadrons involved – you name it, it’s controllable. I’m not a huge fan of megalomaniacal minutiae, which WitW delivers in spades, but that’s only if it appeals to you – a definite strength of the game. Giving you the choice of how much detail you want in your game makes for something enjoyable for all levels of gaming OCD.

Air Combat losses window, which appears during the air turn’s execution.

Air Combat losses window, which appears during the air turn’s execution.

Once all those decisions are made (or not made and left to the AI), the game processes the phase. This can take a while, even if left to the AI (though I didn’t notice much of a difference time-wise when it came to running a tweaked turn instead of an untouched one). The larger the scenario, of course, the longer it will likely take, as there literally are hundreds of squadrons in some scenarios. Keep in mind, too, that the other side runs its Air Planning phase results also, so there are likely going to be lots of air combats and losses. These are all reported at the end of the Air Planning phase for you to gloat over (or cry over, depending).

Enemy force structures can be viewed if Fog of War is not on.

Enemy force structures can be viewed if Fog of War is not on.

The Ground Movement phase is, of course, where you move units, by ground, air, or sea. Ground units (HQs, armored divisions, infantry, etc.) come in all shapes and sizes, from division on down to regiment in size. If you’re into details, you can drill down into any unit to view its TO&E and see what elements make it up. For example, the 78th British Infantry Division (in the Operation Husky scenario) can be seen in this image, where you can drool over the number of Humber armored cars, PIATS, and anti-tank guns if you wish.

If you like details, you’ll love this.

If you like details, you’ll love this.

If that’s not enough for you, you can drill down even further and view the stats of each element. For example, would you like to check out the armaments of a Jagdpanzer IV? Just click on the element in the list and a display will come up giving all kinds of information. My mind boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into this.

The German Jagdpanzer IV.

The German Jagdpanzer IV.

Ground combat seems straightforward, but there are several elements to keep in mind. Preparation is a major factor in this game, where your units that embark on an airborne drop or amphibious invasion spend movement points to prepare. The more preparation they perform, the better their chances of landing intact. This feature makes a lot of sense historically, though admittedly in game it’s something of a pain to not get instant gratification. You are, however, put into the combat boots of your historic counterparts, and the situation on the ground may indeed get so fluid that it moves fast ahead of your own plans…something to keep in mind.

A Ground Losses report.

A Ground Losses report.

There are two types of ground attacks to consider, so there’s not just units ham-fistedly pummeling each other until one gives ground or disintegrates (the latter happens a lot to the Italian units) – hasty and deliberate attacks. You can tell by the names what each  does. Hasty attacks cost less movement but units attacking suffer reduced combat power, to reflect the lack of preparation. A deliberate attack spends more movement points to reflect that preparation taken and results in all of a unit’s combat power brought to bear on the enemy.

The Battle of the Bulge is kicked off.

The Battle of the Bulge is kicked off.

Other factors have a bearing on combat, such as fortifications, weather (of which WitW fully simulates!), and terrain, but interestingly enough the Axis can use civilian populations to help construct fortifications. Leaders also play a role and can gain experience (as can units) from successful combats (read: not getting destroyed).

I enjoy the simple display on each unit, as well as being able to customize the look of the map to reflect the info I want to see (here, weather and enemy [Allied] control).

I enjoy the simple display on each unit, as well as being able to customize the look of the map to reflect the info I want to see (here, weather and enemy [Allied] control).

The game also has a full system for supplies and logistics, as well as reinforcements, replacements, creating new units, merging units, and other important aspects. I’m not a big fan of playing the logistics side of a game. In fact, I barely tolerate HQs and treat them as necessary evils. There may be those out there that can’t get enough of the micromanagement of moving trucks from one depot to another or to the front line. Bear in mind that ignoring the supply element of this game WILL get you in trouble, and quickly, especially if you’re playing the Western Allies in a campaign game and keep moving your troops far across France. Building depots and fixing rail lines are all integral parts to keeping your war machine moving forward. I generally don’t like messing with this kind of thing as it’s beyond the scope of what I want to do – move and control combat units – so if this isn’t your bag, this may be a major sticking point. Also, there are about 12 pages in the game manual alone devoted to supply and how it moves around the map, which needs to be absorbed in order to do this part of the game justice.

A US versus Italian battle. It does not end well for the latter.

A US versus Italian battle. It does not end well for the latter.

That all said…I really didn’t mind this part of the game, surprisingly. While the game throws a LOT of information your way, including supply information, it’s fairly easy to control and wrap your mind around. For something I try to avoid in games, it wasn’t as painful experience as I thought it would be to go through.

The Bulge scenario, from a high level.

The Bulge scenario, from a high level.

SCENARIOS

There are currently 10 scenarios (actually seven scenarios and three full campaigns) in the game, though I have no doubt there will be more created by users or possibly Matrix/2 by 3. There’s a lot of empty space in the Load Scenario screen to accommodate it.

Seven scenarios, three campaigns.

Seven scenarios, three campaigns.

Two of the three campaigns deal with D-Day. One starts in May and the other on D-Day itself. The third campaign runs from 1943 (about the time of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily) through the end of the war. Two of the seven scenarios are ‘introductory’ and therefore give you something smaller to chew on before you try to dive into something more massive, such as the Bulge scenario or one of the campaigns.

One final thing about scenarios that I found very interesting – the player can choose to control Eastern Front deployments if they wish. In scenarios, the Eastern Front is controlled by the computer and is inexorable – neither the Axis nor Allies may influence it. However, in the campaigns, the Axis player may choose to control this before the game starts, and can then move units (by spending administration points, a finite resource) to and from there to influence how quickly (or slowly) the Eastern Front advances on Axis-held territory. This can add a lot of detail to an already detailed game, for an Axis player, but the dimension is rich and gives one something to think about other than the Western Front throughout the game.

CONCLUSION

Gary Grigsby’s War in the West is an epic-scale wargame. I never played War in the East, surprisingly, so I cannot testify to how this game compares to that one. As a first experience to this system, though, it seems like a massive juggernaut of a game that can easily drown players in detail, but it really only takes a little effort to wrap one’s mind around how it operates, and once you get that down, it’s a really deep and satisfying game to enjoy.

The game manual is a must-read, as is the player’s handbook (the PH is good if you want to dive in quickly, but the details in the game manual have to be absorbed to truly appreciate the game fully). It’s my understanding that the box version has a very nice printed player’s manual. The download version of course has a PDF which looks great, and that’s good – because you’ll be doing some reading. Overall, though, if you’re a wargame fan of the Western Front and like large-scale campaigns, you’d do well to add this to your collection.


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2 Responses to GrogHeads Reviews Gary Grigsby’s War in the West

  1. JudgeDredd says:

    Excellent impressions. Thanks

  2. JudgeDredd says:

    Though (I meant to post this in my first comment) I do think the air losses are out of whack. Each time I start a game ( and I’ve started several just to try and get the hang of the Air Directive stuff), I’m looking at 15,000+ sorties with losses ranging between 100 and 300

    My last run in saw 15,765 sorties with 179 losses. That seems awful low – though it’s just a gut feeling

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