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Subject: My fave WW2 game rss

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Sandy Petersen
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I love strategic games about World War II, from Blitzkrieg to Guadalcanal to Russian Front to Battle of the Bulge. Sadly for me, but for some pretty good reasons, there have been very few WW2 games that covered the whole, big picture.

First off, doing the whole war would be a major project – you’d want a huge map, a billion counters, and all the various national interests represented. Yeah it could probably be done in some simpler manner but why bother? Second, the Pacific and European theaters were extremely different. The former was filled with heated naval actions, combat on tiny islands, the mysterious slow-moving war in China, and so forth. The initial battle for New Guinea, one of the most consequential Allied victories of the war, involved less than 50,000 men both sides combined. By contrast, most histories of the European war don’t even mention actions that small.

The European war had massed tank battles and grandiose Napoleonic thrust-and-parry. Trying to fit together a game system that could adequately portray both wars is daunting.

On the other hand, the two main theaters of war (Pacific & Europe) mostly only interacted through the United States – i.e., the major effect of, say, a major Japanese victory was to diminish the number of escorts and landing craft assigned to Europe. There were other interrelated actions; obviously when Japan threatened India in 1944 that would have hurt Britain; and a Japanese push towards Vladivostok in 1941 would have affected the Battle of Moscow. But these were might-have-beens. So to a major extent, the two theaters were quite separate – thus a would-be designer could easily ignore one of the two (as was done .

When Third Reich came out, it simplified naval combat to emphasize land (why not?), but of course the Pacific was absent. When Victory at Sea arrived, it simplified land combat and ignored tanks (why not), because it didn’t have to deal with Europe. Axis & Allies seemed like a kid’s game to me, but I played it because of the WW2 connection. At least it covered the whole war. But where was my whole-world WW2 game?

In another review, I compared Europe Engulfed to a host of other WW2 grand strategy games. But really, the majority of these (Hitler’s War, SPI’s WW2, Totaler Krieg, Third Reich) just cover Europe. It’s as though the Pacific theater, which covered ten times the surface area, just didn’t matter. And while clearly the critical theater was Europe, it’s a long way from “not as critical as Europe” to “didn’t matter”.

When World in Flames came out, I was extremely happy. At last I had a game which emulated the whole doggone thing. Moreover, it had the same prejudice about the war that I had – that it was not a rigidly-controlled sequence of predetermined events, but a freewheeling clash of personalities, unexpected outcomes, and surprises. The war even ended with a huge surprise (nukes?!).

THE BASICS
World in Flames is a monster game. It features two huge maps, a great big production spiral, and other play aides. Plus you need space to put the hundreds of counters, keep track of production, and even victory points if you bother with that (who does?).

Like most monster games, it’s actually pretty simple, almost old-fashioned (most of the complexity is in the scale). Each two-month turn consists of a series of impulses (more in summer, fewer in winter) in which the two sides take turns moving, then fighting. Ships have to “intercept” each other at sea in order to fight, so sometimes two mighty fleets mass for action and nothing happens. It’s sad, but there are rather gamey ways to get around the situation.

One of the interesting limitations of the game system is that each major nation under your control can choose to do a Land, Sea, or Combined impulse. A Land impulse lets you move all your armies. A Sea impulse lets you move all your navies. A Combined impulse lets you move some of each. Confusingly, the limits are different for each nation. Another advantage of the Combined impulse is that it is the only impulse when you can strategically bomb an opponent.

At the end of all the impulses in a turn, everyone produces their money and puts freshly-bought units on the production spiral. It successfully portrays the difference between the Allied haves and Axis have-nots by the fact that a nation’s industrial capacity is portrayed by factories (plus a multiplier). But this is only its capacity. To USE that capacity, you have to transport raw resources to the factories via convoys or land routes. Japan, for example, has a starting capacity of 21, but only (I think) 1 resource on the home islands. All the rest have to be imported from overseas. Germany typically has a capacity of 33 by the end of 1940, but to keep them going at full capacity, they need to invade Russia or Spain or somewhere. America has more resources than it can actually use, so it typically transports extra to Britain or Russia.

That kind of summarizes the game. Overall, the rules are not badly organized. I can generally find what I want in a cursory examination. It has a helpful index, and the rules themselves are straightforward. Of course in a game covering this vast expanse, rules questions can arise.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT WORLD IN FLAMES
THE SUBMARINE WAR – this is actually the best rendition of submarine action on a strategic level, I have ever seen. To keep the resources coming to English or Japanese factories (the only two that matter – though there are a few other minor routes), the player needs to set up convoy routes. The submarines act like parasites, draining supplies directly from the convoys, but also occasionally sinking a convoy and forcing the owner to replace it with more ships. To hinder off the subs, you need to send out your ships in a mass of penny-packet escorts, keeping everyone as safe as possible. Making it worse is that the enemy can also raid convoys with aircraft or surface ships, which are best combatted by massing your forces. Plus you have other things you want to use your vessels for, like supporting landings and fighting off the enemy’s forces. The game even tempts you to make the Japanese error of using subs to target warships, and sometimes it pays off, encouraging you to try it again and again.

REALISM – I mean the overall feel of the game. Obviously no wargame is “realistic” about details. But the aspects of this game seem “right” from my extensive readings on the war. For example, strategic bombing "feels" about the same in-game as it was historically. That is, it is worth it when unopposed. If the enemy bases fighters in the homeland to defend against your bombers, then strategic bombing is costly. On the other hand, you’ve forced the foe to pull fighters off the front lines, which is good. Capturing Gibraltar or invading England as Germany is hard, but possible. One game when I captured Gibraltar, it took me six months of air and naval action, which I feel was quite right – it wasn’t just the usual “pile big units in Spain and then attack” as seen in many other games. I had to send Italian and German naval and seaplane forces to push away the British. Just as in the real war, to invade Britain, Germany needs to get air supremacy, plus have a major naval emphasis – it has to be planned and supported for quite a while to pull this off. And there are trade-offs. If you DO get into England, this means the push into Russia is much weaker. I guess the point I’m making is that the invasion is hard, but possible, but involves non-land combat far more than simply rolling over Tommies with your panzers. Which feels right to me. I would say that probably we only see such an invasion every 3-4 games.

THE WHOLE WAR – it has China, the hapless French, political rules for bringing the USA closer to war, separate unit colors and counters for almost every minor nation, including Switzerland. The only country I feel they left out was Thailand which was, after all, a micro-belligerent (and since they include units for Portugal and Iraq how hard would it be to print a few Siamese forces). The major surface combatant ships even have names so you know you’re sending the Bismarck into action, or regretting the loss of the Arizona or whatever. I really like seeing the big picture.

DAYS OF DECISION – the game Days of Decision can be combined with World in Flames to start the fun in 1936, including the Spanish Civil War, early fighting in China, the Austrian Anschluss, and so forth. Days of Decision II is a crock, in my opinion, but the original makes for a really good prelude to a really good game.

IN CONCLUSION
It takes forever and a day to play. I’m playing a game of it right now that I’ve playing for four evenings with a buddy (about 4-6 hours per day) and we’re up to March 1940. On the other hand, we started in 1936 with Days of Decision so that’s almost a year of action per day. But I love setting up and playing this game. When non-gamer friends visit and see World in Flames in my game room, they are always impressed. The map is bright and cheerful and the counters a rainbow of fun colors.
The developers have put out a billion supplements – Planes in Flames, Ships in Flames, etc. almost all of which I have snooted in favor of the basic 5th edition game. I guess I’m a luddite, but that gives me everything I need. Plus I’m not really sure that at the scale we play, an aircraft unit really represents 500 spitfires or whatever – it’s almost certainly a mix of planes.

SPECIAL ITALIAN SUPPLEMENT – more than one acquaintance of mine here on the geek feel that WiF overestimates the Italians, but I disagree. Italian production in the game is usually about 1/6th that of Germany in numerical terms (33 vs. 5-7 points), but their units are much weaker too, so overall they have probably less than 10% of Germany’s potential, which I think is about right. The Italian navy was better than British propaganda made it out to be (still bad, tho), and fought six large-scale actions, namely Calabria ((50+ ships involved), Cape Spartivento (35-40 ships) , Cape Matapan (30+ ships), Sirte (30+ ships), Sirte 2 (30+ ships), and Pantelleria (21 warships). All included battleships but Pantelleria. In game terms, these would probably have 4-6 units on each side which is about right for the scale of Mediterranean naval combat. In addition, the Italians fought a lot of smaller-scale actions most of which in game terms would just be 1-2 units per side, and some might be represented only by escort/raider rules.
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Steve Fowler
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Nice review,
Siam has a LS and a Mil IIRC.
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suPUR DUEper
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Good review!

I think I am one of those who feel the Italians are way overpowered in WiF.


Germany tends to send its surplus resources to Italy and use all those idle factories to build extra planes for use on the Russian Front. I have a few problems with this:

It is not very historical
It is a loophole which allows Germany to get around activation limits
The Italian can often build Lend Lease planes which are mostly equivalent in terms of quality to the Germans.
Many Italian units suffer in terms of quality compared to other major powers (e.g. ARM, CV's). However, the units that they tend to build are not that bad (NAV, Subs, TAC) relative to their counterparts. Even their FTR's are not that horrible compared to the early war French and British models.


Edit: Also, not a problem with the game per se but.... Most Italian players are waaay more aggressive with the fleet than their historical counterparts. Players tend to approach the fleet as an expendable resource early in the game knowing that the longer they wait to use it, the more likely it will be lost.... And it usually is lost somewhere along the line. Ditto the Kriegsmarine.
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suPUR DUEper
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P.S. I am with you on the 5th edition. I had more fun with that game than I did with the later editions.... More cognitive load in the later games without a proportional increase in fun.
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Fargofootball wrote:
Nice review,
Siam has a LS and a Mil IIRC.


Not in 5th ed as far as I can remember.
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Mark Riley
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I have something called the Final Edition which I bought ages ago but never played. I also seem to have the add ons such as SIF, PIF etc. The counters in the supplements are gorgeous and if I ever play it, it will have to be with these. What in % terms is the rough rules add on for using the supplements or to what extent is it possible to play the basic game with the azzy counters rather than the generic naval and air counters?
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Wendell
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Great review, though I prefer WIFFE to WIF5!

goatleaf wrote:
I have something called the Final Edition which I bought ages ago but never played. I also seem to have the add ons such as SIF, PIF etc. The counters in the supplements are gorgeous and if I ever play it, it will have to be with these. What in % terms is the rough rules add on for using the supplements or to what extent is it possible to play the basic game with the azzy counters rather than the generic naval and air counters?


The main thing about PIF and SIF that adds playing time is just having extra units. A wild guess would be using both might add 15-20% playing time, but that's a guess.
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Greg Gray
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Great review.

I could tell as I was reading it that you played an older version of the game. In particular the parts about submarine warfare have been changed in more recent versions.

I think your introduction lays out why WiF is unlike any other game in that it balances the needs of each theater, taking into account the differences in operations and combat between the two. I'd list other favorite reasons for why I like the game but as everyone is different, we each have our own take on things, and I can see why you enjoy the ones you do.

I would especially like to thank you for the list of Italian naval battles. I've read several histories of the war but I've never picked up a specific book on the naval war in the Med (the Battle of the Atlantic usually gets more press). An excellent list and one that I'll use to help me do some selective reading on the Italian naval contribution.
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wifwendell wrote:
Great review, though I prefer WIFFE to WIF5!

goatleaf wrote:
I have something called the Final Edition which I bought ages ago but never played. I also seem to have the add ons such as SIF, PIF etc. The counters in the supplements are gorgeous and if I ever play it, it will have to be with these. What in % terms is the rough rules add on for using the supplements or to what extent is it possible to play the basic game with the azzy counters rather than the generic naval and air counters?


The main thing about PIF and SIF that adds playing time is just having extra units. A wild guess would be using both might add 15-20% playing time, but that's a guess.


I would agree with Wendell here. WiF is still my all time favorite wargame. As for Pif and SiF, I would add that the extra time is well worth it. Just the addition of CV planes to the carriers is a big improvement in the game.
I also play only the Final Edition here. I am in the process of replacing my original Planes in Flames counters with Planes in Flames Gold. But I highly recommend the use of the Ships in Flames expansion.
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James Hamilton
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WiF is indeed a great game. I have not played for a fair while now but back in the day I played at least one night a week and between one and three full weeks a year. I think I must have played the whole way through 40 or more times.

Now I tend to play much lighter fluffier games but I do still remember fondly those days of WiF night and WiF weeks.
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Steve Fowler
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OOPs Im bad

Badgeroonie wrote:
Fargofootball wrote:
Nice review,
Siam has a LS and a Mil IIRC.


Not in 5th ed as far as I can remember.
 
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Adam Thorp
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i have only begun playing World in Flames just recently, but I agree that it is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played.
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Sandy Petersen
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Hmm, my Germany usually doesn't have a lot of "extra" resources laying around so getting that mighty Italian air force is less of a deal. Plus, as previously stated, its planes are suckier than the German so you're not getting as good a value as possible.

It is true that I play an older (2nd or 3rd I think) edition of World in Flames, but since newer editions have so far been less fun, I see no need to change. Are the new submarine rules so cool I should make an exception at least for them?

The Italians in the actual war of course tried to preserve their fleet (successfully, too - it was still largely intact for the surrender). An Italian player who does not value this particular asset can of course lose his fleet in an afternoon. The real Italians assured the successful completion of 90% of their cargos to Africa throughout the war. That's not bad considering the foes they had to reckon with.

Overall, I admit, the Italians in World War 2 did a shabby job. Surely they COULD have done better. It seems unfair, when a game LETS them do better, to pillory the game for its inaccuracy.
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Sandy Petersen
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One more note - those interested in the Mediterranean in WW2 should read:

Struggle for the Middle Sea, by Vincent P. O'Hara

He covers basically every naval action in the Mediterranean, including French vs. Italian, British vs. (vichy) French, German vs. Italian, etc. etc. etc. Including one fairly major operation - the British venture into the Greek islands in 1944 which was soundly thrashed by the Wehrmacht - which is really hard to find information on elsewhere.

It also includes actions in, for instance, the Red Sea, where Italian & British ships clashed a few times (Italians based out of Ethiopia!).

My favorite action covered in this book is an Italian commander who managed to take his gunship out of port just before the German backstab (when they captured most of the Italian fleet and murdered hundreds of Italian sailors). He lay outside the port that night, and when the Germans sailed out the rest of the captured fleet on their way to France. he took them on one at a time and sank like 9 of them as they emerged, then fled to the Allies, his ship still good.
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Vincenzo Beretta
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The modern (and not so modern) line of thought about the Italian Navy in WWII is that they actually managed to pull off their duty: shipping supply to Africa. Everyone from Il Duce to Italian Admirals was fixated with the "prestige" that came with big victories involving big ships (the chain of events that ended with the Matapan disaster literally started when Mussolini ordered the Navy to "sail to Eastern Med and do something"). This allowed to those who humbly ran the daily toil of shipping convoys to Africa to do their job unmolested by the bigwigs - something true for modern workplaces too.

The best book I ever read about the Italian Navy in WWII is, alas, only in Italian: "La guerra italiana sul mare: La marina tra vittoria e sconfitta, 1940-1943", by Giorgio Giorgerini. I hope that someone will translate it in English, because Giorgerini re-examines the whole war in the Med with the kind of unbiased and analytic eye that Parshall and Tully employ in "Shattered Sword". Just to give an example, Giorgierini de-mystifies the "crucial lack of CVs in the Italian Navy" and thinks that Mussolini was correct in considering the peninsula "a natural aircraft carrier in the Med". However to pull this off the Navy would have needed her own air branch, or at least a better coordination with the Air Force - instead of "friendly" airplanes that arrived hours after the battle and bombed Italian ships still in the area.

Generally speaking, I agree that Italy is usually underestimated in WWII strategic wargames, because in the real war the country squandered its forces in dozens of ill-advised/ill-organized operations. An Italian player who keeps his focus and doesn't overestimate what can do will almost always surprise the Allies.

This if the game is fair in portraying Italy's potential, of course. The alternative, however, should be to clearly spell out any "cultural bias" implemented in the rules, like Advanced ETO does with its "Italian apathy" (AKA: "what are we fighting for, *exactly*?") special rule.
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