Strategy and Tactics WWII is a “board-like” video game about commanding troops in the Second World War in Europe at the Divisional to Theater Levels. The game’s story follows fictional generals from the invasion of Poland to the Fall of Berlin, with the majority of the battles being major events. Time is split between playing as the Germans, Soviets, and the United States, with two chapters for the formers and one for the latter. And while the story is generally true to life, since the characters are fictional there is one choice to be made at the very end of the game that has the war end slightly differently, but it’s more of just an interesting exercise.
The gameplay looks deeper than it really is. The map is divided into provinces which have numbers, targets, and factories on them. At the start of a turn, players get resources equal to the numbers on the provinces they control. They can use these resources to buy various types of divisions for their army. These divisions will appear in selected factory provinces (or random ones [and even random, no-factory provinces in this version] if the selected one is not available) at the start of the next turn. Divisions then, on their turn, can attack enemy-held provinces and divisions. While there are some complications with battle handled by the computer, the basics are easy to get: infantry can move one province, motorized infantry and tanks two (if moving through friendly territory), certain units do better against each other, for instance artillery does better attacking tanks than infantry, and planes can bomb or fly within a certain range, (which could be from 1 to about 5 provinces away depending on province size). Below each group of divisions is a bar that shows how strong it is (from green to orange to red), combined divisions have an average of each individual division’s strength. The lower the strength, the easier it is to defeat and push back the division or army. When the strength runs out the army is destroyed. Strength is lost during every attack, but less is lost by the victor. When a unit does not move it recovers strength, and when it moves but does not attack it doesn’t lose or gain. And, finally for my explanation, surrounded divisions who are defeated automatically die since they have no place to retreat to, and there is a limit of 12 divisions per province, so they could be surrounded with a full complement of friendly forces on each side.
All of that might sound interesting, but it doesn’t boil down to much. The main goal of each mission is to capture provinces marked with targets, and since there’s a turn limit it ends up being more of a mad dash. The actual strategic component of surrounding divisions rarely comes into play, but it is quite satisfying. The game may look like a smaller Hearts of Iron, but it has nowhere near the depth, or breadth. None of the missions are large, and one never gets to control or even fight a whole country, just small pieces. There isn’t much space to use strategy and tactics, and resources are scarce. While there is some variance in the units since they upgrade throughout the campaign, every battle ends up being very similar, to the point where the rare battles that are quite large seems like a breath of fresh air.
This claustrophobia is fixed in some part by the standalone battles that are separate from the campaigns; huge battles like Barbarossa, or “the Decline of the West”, which takes place over all of Europe, are really exciting. But in the main version, some of these have to be paid for, which brings me to a major complaint of many: The in-app purchases. It is possible to play the entire game without buying anything other than the game itself, but at times the resources seem so scarce that it becomes quite tempting to just buy them with real money (Or you could cheat the A.I.). I never found this temptation strong, and it is quite possible to beat the game (and not too difficult to do so) without buying a single thing. Still it is unsightly, and I do wish they were not there.
The expansions to the game, such as a WWIII campaign, and other stand-alone scenarios centered around fiction are fun, especially the massive scenario where you either have to beat down the US, Canada, and Mexico as the USSR, or keep the Soviets and the Chinese at bay and destroy their landing zones in California as the United States, which is suitably epic. I purchased a few of these before I realized it was more or less a rip-off for the amount I was getting and stopped playing the game because I had beaten almost everything. Fortunately, this has been fixed by having a separate app with all of the expansions pre-packaged for half of the total previous price. Still, I can’t justify spending any more money on this particular game. (And the scenario with the Germans in the arctic is impossible.) This in-app purchasing problem was fixed with the paid version of the WWII-based sequel (they charge so much for expanding the free version that buying the paid version where you won’t have to pay anything again is much cheaper).
While the larger battles in the US and Europe are more fun, and have more room for actual strategy and tactics, they are quite long, and by the end show how little depth there is at times. I do enjoy them, but with no government, naval, or economic forces at play I can see how they would bore people. And they highlight the problems with the A.I., which is pretty bad. When resources are scarce and units unbalanced, it can win on time usually, but in a large scenario with almost equal power between the sides, the computer will inevitably lose given enough time. It isn’t the greatest at attempting to win the game. And, in fact, exploiting this is absolutely necessary to winning the main game. The A.I. goes for material more than the strategic provinces, and will chase easy kills. Giving up a single division will keep entire armies occupied for long enough to allow one to rally their troops and make the game unwinnable for the computer. And, in some cases, abandoning completely the province one should be defending to run out and distract somewhere else is the only way to win, so instead of defending Leningrad to the last man, one ends up just fighting over random countryside. This leads to a balancing problem where the computer has too much power in many of the main missions, and if it were controlled by a human it couldn’t possibly lose. The computer also can’t recover from the destruction of an army, as it never really likes to buy units in a way that makes sense. Surrounding an army by exploiting how cheap and easy paratroopers are to buy and destroying a whole 12 divisions essentially wins a mission as the computer is incapable of recovering, and will split a lot of existing units instead of combining them to compensate.
In the end, it’s an “all right” game, but not worth all of the in-app purchases. If I had bought the complete version first, I would be happier. And, after I finished the campaigns and stand-alone missions, I haven’t really wanted to go back. It’s fun for a time, but unrealistic, and lacking depth. It just doesn’t have the hook to keep it interesting that its WWII-based sequel (WWII Sandbox, Strategy and Tactics) does, and that’s the one I keep going back to.