Tag Archives: Slitherine Software

Commander: The Great War, reviewed

Commander The Great War
Publisher: Slitherine Ltd
Available on PC, Mac  and Ipad
Itunes Link SRP as of review: $19.99

I’ve been meaning to get to this review sooner rather than later, but this is no light historically-flavored game, like my previous two Slitherine reviews (Quadriga and Frontline: Road to Moscow).  Commander The Great War  (CTGW hereafter) is designed for serious wargamers who are in it for the long game– and willing to pay a serious price for the privilege.   Yes, that’s right, CTGW is not going to be a cheap purchase, it’s 20.00 as of this writing.  Is it worth the high end price tag? Right up front I’ll say yes, it is, with a few caveats that I will expand upon.

SCOPE: Commander the Great War is a grand strategy scaled game. Players assume the role of supreme leader of a nation or coalition of nations on either the Entente Cordiale or Triple Entente sides of the Great War (meaning World War One in this instance). In pursuit of this role, the player will be making strategic decisions for the individual nations on his or her side, including army movements and attacks, naval movements (and resulting battles) as well as research and development of new military technologies.

Game Start and setup– with some nice multimedia bits

If I were to draw an analogy to a boardgame, CTGW relates to Advanced Third Reich and/or World in Flames the most, in that the player has to operate on the same grand strategic scale in a major theater of war, and there’s a similar diplomatic and research element to those games. Yeah, I know, World War Two. I just don’t know of any that fill the same niche set in the First World War era– certainly not Guns of August. In terms of computer games, Matrix Games’ own Guns of August (PC version) is roughly similar in scope, but not mechanics. To End all Wars (also published by Slitherine) looks similar in scope but is mechanically very different (being developed by Aegeon), but I have no experience with it.

The setting for Commander the Great War is vast; playing out on a hex map of Europe from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula up to the North Sea, East to the Ural mountains, West to the Atlantic and French coast. That is a lot of hexes and a lot of ground to cover, especially in the grand campaign games after 1916, when so many fronts are opened up. This can get a little confusing on the Ipad, as one furiously swipes across the map to see what the enemy units are doing during his opponent’s turn.

There are five preset Campaigns:

  • 1914 The Great War
  • 1915 Ypres – Artois
  • 1916 The Battle of Verdun
  • 1917 The Nivelle Offensive
  • 1918 The Kaiserschlacht

Echoing the course of the Great War, the Triple Entente (Germany, Austria, Turkey) are favored in the first two scenarios and somewhat in 1916. In game terms, 1917 and 1918 become a real challenge for the Triple Entente player as more and more military technologies are present at start of the game (tanks, better airplanes, better artillery, armored trains, better ships, and etc).

I’m playing Serbia in the 1914 campaign versus the AI. Serbia is a thankless role, but the whole shooting match starts here and it’s worth a shot as the Entente Cordiale player. I do have the advantage of interior lines, and a ponderous response from the Austrians, but numbers eventually tell.

No matter which you select, don’t expect to be done with any grand campaign quickly. The AI is slow to make decisions (More on this later) and progress is very incremental.

Here are my vacation snaps from the invasion of the Low Countries (also the 1914 scenario). No grand Schlieffen Plan here; it’s more like a bulge forming in the Allied line as the Germans pour in after limited local success. This pattern repeats throughout the game– It’s ALL about finding a spot to break through and exploit– it’s a real gamble, and broad front assaults are almost impossible

There doesn’t appear to be any instructions or help file anywhere, but most of the action happens in a few screens and are very easy to figure out.    Mechanically, moving land troops is just dragging them from hex to hex and clicking on highlighted squares when the moving unit is adjacent to  enemy units.   Terrain and Zones of Control factor into movement and combat in a very general way, in that you will move faster on a railroad and be held up by terrain features, or not be able to pass an enemy formation.

Example of moving Serbian movements into the abattoir.

The mechanics aren’t the interesting part of the game, not so much. It’s the decisions you make per turn that will change the game one way or the other for the player. Those decisions are made using a simple five tabbed menu:

How to fight a war, emphasis mine!

The management menus lead to production, research, diplomacy and management sub-menus.  This is the point where I remind you of your role– you may want to fight those tactical battles, they’re fun and very visually rewarding.   However, you’re in it for the long haul here, and you are making decisions about what you’ll be doing not just this year, but the next two years.  So you need to start making the hard decisions early.. do I spend a lot of money on researching better weapons and hope I’m just lucky and don’t need a lot of infantry replacements?  Or do I feed more men into the meat grinder I’m dealing with right now?

The Diplomacy screen is rather innocuous, I haven’t seen much come as a result of using it.  Players need to focus on Production and Research decisions exclusively– resources are what they are– very precious.  You have what you have and you must spend them wisely to be effective.

Serbia’s rather bleak production options in 1914.

What can Serbia research this early in the war? Well, I’d choose barbed wire…

When you play a side, depending on the campaign you’re playing, you are playing multiple fronts and multiple nations, with multiple national priorities. The Serbian/Austrian front at the start of the war is pretty much a doomed confrontation, so the Serbians need to do what they can do to stall the Triple Entente until the other powers can get engaged. So that “Cheap Infantry now versus expensive Tanks later” equation doesn’t really work there, but it will for, say, Germany or England. You also have to consider what the major front you are working on needs– not just now, but in three turns. For instance, Russia could use those cheap cavalry units. Sure, they are crap troops– but they are great for moving vast distances without railroads fairly quickly, and can cut off troops nicely. The Germans will be tempted to spend it on better airplanes and artillery to force a result on the Western Front. The English may be the best power on Water but that superiority doesn’t necessarily last forever– and what about buying transports and more infantry, you know, to help those Allies out somewhere?

And this is where you get feedback from your decisions, each turn. What will be next in the production queue, what is coming up in the research queue..

There are a lot of variables in CTGW, and a lot to experiment with– just don’t expect a quick payoff. As I’ve already mentioned, this is a long game, and you NEED to be in it for the long game. Don’t bother if you want a quickly resolving tactical battle game like Frontline. That’s not the focus of Commander Great War. Even success creates tough situations– combat is often very bloody for both sides– when you lose most of your attacking force in a victory, what then? What happens next year when the other side comes roaring back in a counterattack? I certainly hope you planned for reinforcements!

What does all this mean? You have to plan ahead in almost every turn. In this respect, the game really generates interesting, and often historically flavored results. The game really does feel like World War One– there’s no way a broad front strategy works– The Western Front ends up a pushing match, the Eastern Front has great scope for movement. The best results for the Western Front is to exploit a salient and push through in localized areas. That often is such a grinder that the Entente player really IS tempted to explore other fronts like Turkey.

The technological developments really enhance that feeling. Germany is tempted to use its finite surface fleet early– but things really change for them when U-boats come into play.

If I sound enthusiastic, I am– however there are a few drawbacks to this game– it’s slow, which is why I found it harder to review, than, say, the last 2 Slitherine games I’ve bought. I find that the AI is very capable, but is facing so many decisions that it does bog down somewhat after about four turns. Before the last update, the AI was consistently freezing right about turn 4. That seems to be fixed. It’s still not greased lightning but remember, this isn’t an arcade game. Each turn will require a lot of actions on the player’s part, expect that to be the case for the AI as well. The other element that I find a drawback to total enjoyment is the lack of transparency. I often was stumped about units appearing out of the “Fog of War fog” that is on the edges of the map.. sometimes I was asking myself how the heck that unit got THERE.. teleporting? I also would like to know what the AI player’s decisions were in the proceeding turn. I know it’s historically appropriate for the human side to NOT know this, but it would help understand the mechanics, which certainly aren’t explained.

Summary: Commander Great War is like a sipping whiskey; drink it too fast and you’ll choke. CTGW is far too complex of a brew to be swallowed whole on first sip. You’ll have to be patient, take it in gradually. This game will reward patience and foresight, but not an arcade player. Commander The Great War is a game of elegance and simplicity, and it will reward a player with a strategic mindset. Is it worth 20 bucks? That’s up to you. I think there’s a LOT of game in that 20 dollars, and a real wargaming fan will consider his money well spent. Replay value is excellent.


Ipad Review: Da Vinci’s Art of War

Publisher: Slitherine Software UK Ltd.
SRP: $4.99
Released: Mar 07, 2014
Size: 131 MB
Language: English (from Italian rules*)
PBEM: not in game (play versus 3 AIs)
Itunes Link

Magnifico is a Risk-like area control board game design from Dust Games where the ultimate goal is to dominate 16th century Europe.   The game is set in an alternate universe where the more fantastic ideas from Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbooks area a common part of warfare.   I’m not sure how Magnifico was received when it first came out, but it’s rated middling well and Tom Vasel certainly likes it.  Magnifico totally flew under my radar, and it has the kind of theme I enjoy, too!

So that was 2008.  In 2014, the good folks at Slitherine must be shopping around for easy to absorb area control dice-fest light wargame designs, since they have been releasing a lot of them lately.   Magnifico was faithfully recreated in IPad format as Leonardo’s Art of War.  Based on Vasel’s review, I’m reasonably sure it plays close to the board game design.

Games are played either in short or long fashion (50 turns) and each turn is played Igo-Hugo roughly in this order:

  1. Income and Recruitment (add infantry, collect money)
  2. Auction for Inventions (cards) & determining the Magnifico
  3. Action Round (moving, fighting, building..)
  4. Scoring, Next turn

Main Gaming Screen showing human (me) playing two AIs.  I must be activating a discovery from Leonardo’s notebooks (they are on the cards on the bottom).

The goal of the game is to control massive areas of  Europe by invading and attacking regions.  Each region is rated for recruiting potential and income.  Strategy tip: when you are initially setting up, put your first area controlled down on a territory that supports recruiting 2 infantry per turn, not 1.  And NEVER start on a region rated for 0 recruiting!

Attacking an enemy camp, 2 tanks and 6 infantry versus 7 infantry. In general, it’s a good idea to have a numerical advantage, just like in real life armies.

Each turn you have an option to move into a neutral territory (Invasion) or an enemy territory (Attacking).  You can Attack or Move over water, but if an enemy has built Submarines (more on inventions later), the invading force will lose one infantry per every submarine attack.

Once they engage in combat, bonuses apply. As you can see, there’s more to this infantry and those tanks that meet the eye.

If you saw Tom Vasel’s video you pretty much know the mechanics already.  Combat is dice heavy in this game.  Infantry are a dice each plus any additional inventions or discoveries that will moderated combat, which add dice.  The dice are specialized, with hits and misses and losses part of the mix.  I don’t think the IPad dice map to the board game version exactly, or at least graphically.  I’m not sure.  I’ve never played the original game.

When tanks enter into combat, they check for breakdown (represented by the gears turning, and if it breaks down, it shakes and shatters, taking the the tank out of the combat. It happens a lot.

So, we’ve been talking about moving and attacking in the Action Phase, let’s talk about the other stuff you can do in your conquered land.   IF you have the money (Florins), you can construct the Da Vinci tank, or the Da Vinci glider, or build a castle.  If you already have a castle, you can increase the fortifications by “building shields”.  There are only 16 castles in this game, and once the 16th is built, the only way to get another is to take it away from someone else.

Castles are great for adding a defensive bonus to a region when attacked; they are even more formidable with extra shields.  Seeing as Infantry attacking are limited to six, if the castle has even a comparable number of infantry and some shields, it will probably force a retreat.

Well, it happens to the best of us.

Now, I’ve been talking a little out of order here.. I’ve mentioned bonuses and inventions, what’s the story with them?

Right after recruitment and income, the game moves into Auction rounds.  Each player, Human and AI, will bid on two invention cards that will add bonuses to your army– submarines, ironclad warships, gears for your tanks, repeating cannons, bombards, etc.  All of these do some pretty interesting, game altering bits.

El Walto bids for either the Gear (which will help keep a tank from breaking down) or the Gyroscope (which adds a combat bonus to gliders). The Gyroscope by the by, was scanned from the card art and not translated from the original Italian, which caused some confusion for us poor non-Italians.  * Note: One of the cards was still in Italian, according to BGG, and it apparently caused confusion.  I figured it out easily enough, it’s a non-issue.

And it’s not all about combat, but it mostly is.  You can also score points bonus by collecting art.

It’s not a cannon, but it sure is a point scorer

In addition, if you are the high bidder for the turn, you are “the Magnifico” for the turn, which gives you bonus victory points and discounts on building stuff.

So there’s a lot of elements in play, here.. an auction, upgrades to your combat units.. attacking other regions, defending your own.  How does it come together?  Remarkably well, for starters.  Art of War is a game of attack.. attack, attack, attack.. you will not benefit from a build and defend strategy.  If you’re not aggressive, you will not win.  Always be invading or attacking, every turn.  Seek out regions with high recruiting numbers (2 versus 1) and try to keep your regions next to each other.  This helps out a lot when you are moving troops around  to stage for an attack.   Build tanks early and often– they get the most invention bonuses and their bonuses can accumulate, so they become quite lethal in later turns.  Personally, there’s not much use in playing the shorter game– it ends far too quickly.  The AI are not particularly clever or aggressive but they WILL attack eventually after all neutral regions are gone.   They will not be as aggressive as you, which makes it a not overly difficult game to win.

woo HOO

Victory is mine!

Why get excited about YET ANOTHER light conquer Europe Area movement game?  Well, for me, I love the theme and the art (which is a direct lift from the Dust Tactics boardgame).  Slitherine has invested some money into interface (it seems) and their Ipad games are definitely benefiting from it.   The inventions and upgrades add MANY decisions to this game and yes, there IS a strategy to it all.  You will have to play aggressively and look ahead a little.  It’s not as challenging as some wargames or even light wargames, but it is very entertaining and worth the piddling price Slitherine is asking for this game.  Well done again, Slitherine!

Oh, Slitherine.. just take my money, you canny bastards. You had me at Pike & Shotte

A fairly recent development over at Slitherine Software, essentially the epicenter of turn based computer wargaming for multiple platforms, was the announcement and screenshots for their upcoming turn based game PIKE AND SHOT (P&S).  P&S will be using the Battle Academy engine, which is robust,  reasonably well tested and more importantly ALREADY PORTED TO TABLETS.  I balked at a 20 dollar Ipad game but something tells me I won’t balk at P&S if it comes in that high (though, realistically, if you’ve made the investment in the engine, I would anticipate that you gain some price efficiencies for reusing it, that’s how it works in other industries)>

The game is turn based and has a bunch of scenarios.  I don’t know much more than Slitherine’s product announcements and the basic look and feel from the screenshots.

(From product page, I’ve bolded the items that make me grin with anticipation)

  • Accurate simulation of battle in the 16th and 17th century Age of Pike and Shot.
  • Unique graphic style based on 17th century styles and battle paintings.
  • 10 full-sized historical battles in each campaign- The Thirty Years War, English Civil War (expansion) and 16th century Italian Wars (expansion).
  • Classic Turn-based, tile based gameplay.
  • Easy to use interface, hard to master gameplay.
  • Battalion-sized units.
  • Single player and multiplayer modes.
  • Stand-alone battle system allows unlimited “what-if” scenarios using historically realistic armies from carefully researched army lists, on realistic computer generated terrain maps.
  • Stand-alone scenarios are randomly generated and include open battle, attack on a defensive position, defence of a defensive position, awaiting reinforcements, enemy awaiting reinforcements, flank march.
  • In stand-alone games players can pick their armies from the army list or allow the computer to pick the army for them.
  • Effective AI makes sound tactical decisions. Historical battle AI customised to the historical tactical situation.
  • 5 difficulty levels allow the challenge to increase as you develop your battlefield skills.
  • 20 troop-types, 25 “capabilities” and numerous different unit organisations allow full representation of tactical differences and developments throughout the period.
  • Detailed model that accurately represents any substantial 16th or 17th century battle world-wide as scenarios are developed.
  • Mod friendly game system with built-in map editor.
  • Multiplayer mode allows historical scenarios and “what-if” scenarios to be played by two players using Slitherine’s easy to use PBEM server.

All great stuff, but a picture is worth a thousand words.  To wit:

Click to enlarge.

The game developers did their research and certainly appear to have the formations correct. I would have expected more linear groupings on a 30 years war battlefield but this wasn’t always the case, so I’ll give Slitherine a lot of slack.

I’m quite excited… dammit, just send me the pre-order information, Slitherine, you nailed this one. Official release date is “TBD” but the company forum says “Later this year“. NICE. After the rather disappointing “closest thing to a Pike and Shot game they make” from HPS Simulations (essentially Panzer Campaigns with Musket and Pike graphics– who thought an operational game would work for this subject matter, HPS?), I was very pleased to see a tactical engine that looks like it will do justice to the subject matter.  You know, with formations that matter, and facing, and troop differences.  Pike and Shot looks like a lot of fun.

At last, an Ipad wargame, of sorts, from a wargame company.

Slitherine Ltd. is a company that transcends media stereotypes.  A publisher of Wargame rules (actual printed ones and scenario books), Computer programs, Console games and interactive history presentation, Slitherine has a pretty diverse portfolio.  I was primarily aware of their work with Osprey Publishing in designing the FIELD OF GLORY ancient wargame rules and some of the ancients-themed computer wargames they publish through MATRIX ONLINE.  Well, now it turns out that Slitherine is catching on to the Ipad market. Slitherine has a game or two branded with the History Channel, and apparently there’s one called EGYPT: Engineering an Empire.  Their plan is to bring this game to the Ipad:

The iPad version of HISTORY™ Egypt Engineering an Empire allows players to build their own empire from its foundations to the height of its power. Acting as the leader of a territory from the Egyptian Empire, players manage all aspects of its rise, from economic growth to political power, the development of armies, and expansion into other regions by war and diplomacy.

Empires are controlled from three main views: the Campaign Map shows the entire game world, including mountains, forests, coastlines, oceans, rivers, cites, and armies. The City Map gives players an overview of the structure and role of a city within the empire, and provides a basis for economic decisions. The Battle Map is to be used when diplomacy has run its course or when a city is being attacked, resulting in turn-based combat.

The game is graphically rich with fast paced addictive gameplay. It is ideal for newcomers to the turn based strategy game genre.

(source: Slitherine website)

Now, this isn’t a classic wargame in the SSI or GMT mode, but it does punch a few buttons for me, namely:

  • Army management with more than 25 unit types to recruit
  • Each nation has its own unique units and buildings
  • 9 historic campaigns with each with different objectives
  • Diplomacy, wars, peace and tributes: use your skills to fight your enemies or make other countries your friends

Again, their words, not mine.  It looks like more of a builder game than anything, but I can live with that.. Here’s the screenshots:

Battle Shot

Battle Shot

City Builder Shot

City Builder Shot

Another Battle

Another Battle

Diplomacy Screen Shot

it looks like a Diplomacy Screen Shot

I’m not sure it will be entirely my cup of tea, but for 4.99, heck, I’d definitely give it the benefit of the doubt. Looks like a whole lot of game for that amount of money.