The Commander series of Wargames

I recently picked up Commander: War in Europe and it really hits some sweet spots for me but it has a few problems. Overall I love the level of abstraction with the low unit density, the way strategic warfare is handled, and the general presentation of research. It was really easy for me to spot the Achilles Heel with the absolutely brain dead AI. I don’t know if that it’s the PS Vita version that’s weak but from the reviews I’ve read it seems that the PC versions suffers here as well. I like the idea of Commander as a series, especially because Napoleonics and World War One are particularly interesting for me lately.

I’d love to find more games at about this level. I know with games this lite you’re sacrificing historical and operational fidelity but sometimes these beer and pretzel games are enjoyable as well. The Third Reich game that AH had ported to the PC was pretty good at this level too. I would like to see a more modern version I could play without DOSBOX.

Anyone else have experince with the series? I imagine that the virtually non existent AI is a big deal breaker and that may have me wandering off in short order but from a design perspective I’m pretty happy.

Tom M

I played a bit of War in Europe. I enjoyed it, but didn’t play long enough to notice if the AI was bad. My main problem was getting a short way into the game, then feeling like I’d researched the wrong stuff, or built the wrong units, and so I was hosed and had to start over.

As far as I know there are very, very few computer wargames which have post-1990 UIs and boardgame level complexity (as opposed to War in the East level). I do recommend Unity of Command, but beyond that, there isn’t much.

Unity of Command is excellent and as a series of operational scenarios it’s darn near perfect. Commander is up one notch at the strategic level and gives you the whole war at once.

But yea Unity of Command is superb and right at that level of abstraction.

Tom M

Commander:The Great War is probably the pinnacle of the series, and is supposedly coming to Steam the end of this week.

Near as I can tell an iPad version of The Great War is releasing this week too. Another reason this series was on my radar.

Tom M

Out of curiousity, what IS that wondorous achilles heel?

I played C:TGW … I think early last year, after picking it up on a whim when I snagged a 50% coupon when Matrix still ran an easter egg hunt on their site (they discontinued it this year, unfortunately).
Anyway, I liked some things about the game, but ultimately found it unplayable. Replicating the maneuvers in the actual war proved to be all but impossible, even the early gains, so it was trenchwar (basically) right from the start - and one even without the constant artillery barrages, cause they cost some outrageous amount of ammunition.
I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I remember about the game now.

The WW2 game was a bit too simplistic for my taste and I never got warm with it, but I did finish some campaigns in the Napoleonic one, which I think is my favorite in the series.
It’s not really a consistent series by any means, though - each game is drastically different from the others in basically each respect.


rezaf

It’s the AI.

I’m playing the WW2 version. It’s the least interesting to me too, but I saw it for the Vita and it’s a nice traveling buddy. You really want the larger screen but hey, portable and the unit count is pretty low for a wargame. I played without fog of war and I’m usually dumb enough to not notice bad AI decisions but I was getting away with things against the AI I shouldn’t have. I got to a darn near 100% convoy interception rate with only two subs and other things. It was pretty obvious that it was struggling. As is I have Paris and London and I’m not really feeling any danger as I roll towards Moscow. Now, I left the difficulty slider at no advantage for either side so I have some room to go there but I can see the AI being a weak point.

Other than that I really like it but I don’t know about the Matrix Price point. When the iOS version of The Great War hits i’ll pounce on that and maybe pick up Napoleon for the PC.

I’m also kinda inclined to boot up Third Reich in Dosbox. Like I’ve said I’m dumb enough where I still think that AI is competitive.

Tom M

Sorry, I had a minor reading comprehension failure and thought you were talking about C:TGW - in the first game, the AI is really pretty easy to game, you’re right.

Matrix Games and their pricing policy is an endless source of debate, but C:TGW really reinforced my belief that they should play with discounts much more heavily. I got it for a whopping 50% off and would never have purchased it otherwise, and even so I’m pretty unhappy with the game and have gotten even more cautious about what games to pick up from their catalogue. For example, I’m interested in AGEODs Civil War II, but even the recent discount was not deep enough to make me grab it.
Essentially, I have a $10/piece interest in basically their entire catalogue, but my interest in almost no game matches their asking price. For me, the exceptions are Distant Worlds (I picked up all expansions) and Panzer Corps (I own all expansions and most of the DLC).

Ah well, sorry for the detour. FWIW, I got both the WW2 and the Napoleonic game for a tenner or thereabout, because before Matrix adapted the “it’s all hours and we won’t let anyone undermine our high price points” policy they allowed regional re-releases, which is why there are german versions of many Matrix games one can get for cheap on Amazon.


rezaf

Don’t bother with Napoleon - I forget exactly why, but the Commander system and Napoleonic warfare weren’t a good fit.

While it was definately a bit “gamey”, I felt the same way about the WW2 game and for some reason liked C:NaW much better than C:EaW.
C:TGW is totally different and a lot more complex.

Well, different strokes I guess.


rezaf

Well here’s The Great War on iPad:

Tom M

What was the verdict on Commander: The Great War? I know rezaf didn’t like it, but hey, some people don’t like Unity of Command either, so you never know who is a nutcase out there. :)

Is it the definitive WWI game? I’ve enjoyed sampling the best of wargaming as an excuse to learn a little of the history. I don’t know much about WWI beyond Rise of Flight. Gameplay videos for C:TGW look fine. I do enjoy recreating historical maneuvers within the game, but I can live without that in a lighter strategy game. I’d play it on PC.

I don’t really need another game in my backlog though. And if there are promising WWI strategy games in development, I’d rather hold off.

I am liking it a lot so far. I’ve played War in Europe on the Vita and now The Great War on the iPad so comparing the games is going to have a few cross system wrinkles. I’ll start by saying I’ll probably like this series best on the PC with the large screen real estate and mouse control. The fundamentals of the game design are consistent and at that level of abstraction I like.

As to The Great War being the definitive WWI game, probably not. I don’t think this series was meant to be though. There is enough history there so its not some funny Risk variation but you don’t get the level of detail and immersion as you would in something an AGEOD title, incidentally it looks like they’re trying WWI again themselves. I need to pop into a general WWI thread and ask about Guns of August.

Tom M

Not definitive (from what I’ve seen so far that title may go to Making History:The Great War, but that’s still in development), but right now certainly the best, with the right mix of grand strategy and strategic wargaming. The A.I. is no slouch, either.

I highly recommend CTGW.

Came across it by chance late in 2013, but it ended up pulling me into one of those epic “gamelock marathons” where I was reading multiple books on the side to learn more about what I was playing, then playing long hours to try out what i was reading in the books. I learned an enormous amount about WWI through playing through the 1914-1918 scenarios from both the Entente and Central Power perspectives. CGTW covers the Western and Eastern Fronts equally, along with the naval war and the underlying economic/production struggle. With the recent patches, it’s one of the best strategy games I’ve played in a long time.

Chris

Having played through the 1914-1918 campaigns several times (from both Entente and Central Power perspectives), let me offer some comments:

  1. The Schlieffen Plan is difficult to pull off, but it CAN be done. This seems historically accurate. You have to perfectly time the sequence of troops through the Belgian bottleneck, overrun or screen the Belgians and British before they can get set, and mass forces around Paris before Allied reinforcements arrive. However, I received a nasty surprise when I DID take Paris with my exhausted regiments, but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

  2. Agree that it’s difficult to pull off the Battle of Tannenberg in the East. The appropriate kind of rail network isn’t portrayed and the AI generally doesn’t expose an entire army to encirclement, but one could argue the AI is thus performing at a higher level than the human generals at the time :).

But whether any specific WWI battle is captured perfectly by CTGW is beside the point. It does a masterful job of confronting you with the strategic challenges of the war. Of Germany battling on two fronts with a fragile and ever-weakening Austrian ally, watching with growing frustration as vast supply convoys sail into Britain from around the globe to fuel the entire Allied war effort. Or to be the Allies and smashing yourself bloody against the ever-evolving defensive lines of the Western Front, becoming desperate for a breakthrough before national morale collapses completely, etc.

Highly recommended.

I agree that C:TGW does a very good job of simulating static warfare and I can see how some overarching mechanics might also be a good match for a WW1 game - alas I never got that far.

And, TLDR in advance, I definately would recommend everyone to try the game himself and not take my word for it (if the pricetag is of minor concern).

The long version:
It’s entirely possible that I just suck at “true wargames” (I had no problems with the earlier Commander games nor somthing like Panzer Corps or Hearts of Iron), but I was utterly unable to replicate the early successes the central powers saw in the war.
In my last attempt, I even went so far to cheat - I gave myself unlimited ammunition and recruited a number of troops I could have never afforded playing honestly - pulling off ANY successful offensive maneuver still provided impossible.
In the west, allied troops flood into Belgium and even with major artillery support (normally this is impossible to do at this stage of the game, as bombardments cost ammo, of which you have and produce a very limited amount - and producing troops also consumes it), gaining any amount of ground is extremely hard. I guess I could have cheated with the combat results as well, but I didn’t want to go that far, I merely wanted to know how I would fare if I magically managed to have a much better economical standing. With a lot of luck, I think it might have been possible to reach the historical extent of the Schlieffen plan (as opposed to the ACTUAL plan, with capturing Paris and all), but not in 8/10 games or thereabout.
And then there’s the east, as Istari6 fittingly described - the Russians behave much more like their WW2 counterparts, essentially drowning you in a sea of units in no time, and whatever made the german successes against them in history possible, the game does not model it properly.
The Austrians can’t do jack shit against Serbia and often enough Russia will send a little probing force their way, which can almost be their (Austria’s) undoing.
The Ottomans are at least out of the way, but their industry is weak and thus I can’t imagine them going on the offensive anyplace, but I didn’t really try much with them.

In the bottom line, I thought the biggest failing in the game engine was that you could not “pour troops” into an engagement. You could ruthlessly attack, ideally from three hexes. But you had to orchestrate the offensive perfectly to be able to destroy the enemy and then hold his tile with a full-strength unit of your own - if not everything went EXACTLY right (i.e. the enemy got favorable dice rolls in combat), you’d end up with weakened frontline units, almost a guarantee of the enemy successfully destroying them next turn. The AI faced the same issue, so in the west, the war became instantly static in most games, usually even close to the belgian border (to germany, mind you), whilst the huge amount of russian troops in the east mounted the pressure.

I haven’t followed the game’s patches at all, so it’s possible some things have changed since then - I wouldn’t know.


rezaf

The key to CGTW is to exploit open space while you have it. For the first few years of the war, once an infantry unit gets “set” in your path, they’re extremely difficult to move out of the way. Early and mid-war formations simply lack the offensive firepower to push aside a determined defender unless they mass overwhelming numerical superiority backed by artillery support (basically, a deliberate attack). It’s frustrating for wargamers trained on WWII and modern wargaming (myself included :>), but it also seems quite historically accurate. The Schlieffen Plan ultimately worked in the game by moving so rapidly that German forces were able to either screen defenders to one side and bypass them, or catch them on the move and rapidly surround and annihilate them. Any time a Belgian or British defender could get into position and begin to fortify, I had to bypass to keep momentum. At Paris, it did settle into a bloody siege, but I had sufficient positional advantage early (surrounding the city on several sides) that I was able to keep the reinforcing French and British units outside the city by making the power of defense work for me.

TL;DR version - if you can get there first, you are extremely hard to dislodge without a prolonged and expensive offensive.

I’m no genius at this stuff. It took multiple attempts before I was able to get the Schlieffen Plan to work, and it required learning how to organize the movement of infantry, cavalry and artillery in a very precise sequence so that combat power was continually moving forwards through Belgium and northern France, always one step ahead of the Allies. But based on my reading, that’s exactly how the Schlieffen Plan was designed historically - very careful attention to logistics and transport of large-scale units to mass combat power at Paris before the Allies could properly react.

As for the larger concerns about the difficulty “pouring troops” into an engagement, again, this felt quite historically accurate to me. In CTGW from 1914-1917, once the line solidifies into trench warfare, the only way to get a breakthrough is to laboriously wear down the opposing infantry with repeated attacks from multiple angles backed by artillery support. The problem is that it exhausts your infantry wearing down the enemy, and you lack the mobility in the reserves to break through the small gap created at such cost. If you’ve sequenced everything just right, a fresh infantry or cavalry unit can be inserted into the newly created breach, but due to their slow speed, they can’t quite break free and are thus caught in the larger defensive zone and counterattacked from the flanks. As long as the defender has reserve troops and railway mobility, it’s much easier to plug a gap then to generate a surprise breakthrough. But that was the central tactical puzzle of World War I that all the generals were struggling with - the mobility of the defender was always greater (via railway and intact roads) than the attacker (foot-weary infantry slogging over muddy cratered ground).

You can create strategic breakthroughs in 1914-1917, but it’s much easier on the Eastern Front where there’s far more room for maneuver. On the Western Front, you need to use every technological advantage and careful strategy to weaken the enemy through broad attrition while preserving your own force as much as possible, stagger attacks to draw reserves away from the vulnerable points, then plan a long staged offensive that ultimately cracks the line along a wide enough area that even foot-mobile infantry can push through without getting bogged by attacks on their flanks.

Once tanks develop to a certain level of effectiveness in 1918, then the battlefield in CTGW really begins to change. “Advanced” tanks backed by late-war airpower and carefully designed offensives are able to breach the line and keep going. They’re not WWII Panzers and you really feel their limitations in exploitation, but used correctly in coordination with the other arms (which themselves have evolved remarkably over the war - the technological developments WITHIN the artillery and infantry from 1914-1918 is something CTGW shows really well), you can begin to engineer multiple breakthroughs and a return to open warfare. One of my most memorable campaigns was played as the Entente, and it was touch-and-go right through till 1918, but the final offensives into Germany led by Mk V tanks were thrilling affairs, swirling engagements fought across Germany before finally capturing Berlin. Great stuff :).

Chris

Don’t worry Field Marshal Haig. I’m sure your ingenious plan of “pouring troops into an engagement” will work the next time!

You almost want me make try the game again, as your descriptions make the game sound pretty cool. Unfortunately, that was not the vibe it gave me at all, and thus some more time will have to pass before I give it another go, if I ever do that.
But thanks again for offering your point of view here, it should help people form a more balanced opinion towards the game.

Well, sorry, but I can’t really describe what I’d want to do in better words. Chris described the mechanics somewhat better than I did, I guess, so you can read it in his post.


rezaf