Thank you! (and hopes for the future of CEAW)

PSP/DS/PC/MAC : WWII turn based grand strategy game

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almeath
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Thank you! (and hopes for the future of CEAW)

Post by almeath » Mon Jun 14, 2021 11:20 am

I would like to personally thank the original design team of CEAW, as well as those who developed and continue to support the excellent Grand Strategy enhancement. It is truly impressive how robust and adaptable the game engine has proven to be after all these years.

I briefly played the original version of CEAW in the early 2000s and reluctantly gave it up when Apple's OS updates rendered it inoperative on newer machines. I then satisfied my passion for WW2 grand strategy with Third Reich PC and then later the Strategic Command series. Although a classic, it is well known that the PC version of Rise and Decline of the Third Reich was always quite buggy and fiddly to play, and now very ancient by modern computing standards. However I do always go back to it when I want a chess-like board game experience of WW2. It is very fun to plan and execute intricate set-piece attacks that result in broad and sweeping offensives with mass encirclements - the essence of WW2. Strategic Command (specifically the War in Europe release) also has great features, such as the high quality and very detailed map, sheer variety of units and excellent atmosphere via the numerous scripted events.

However, neither of these games was truly satisfying for me. I found Third Reich to be too deterministic and also a bit unrealistic in strategic outcomes (at least when playing against the woeful AI). Strategic Command, try as I might to really love it, just doesn't offer strategic level combat that feels entirely like WW2 'should' to me. It is a bit too deterministic and scripted, and the strict force pool limitations lead to a very odd feeling when fighting large campaigns, particularly in Russia. I know that fronts were not truly contiguous and there were in reality many gaps, but the very limiting force pools have led, in my experience, to Barbarossa campaigns that feel more like small isolated army groups wandering around in a huge expanse, with neither the numbers to bring to bear a true 'Blitzkrieg' style of attack and perform mass-encirclements as in 1941-42, or even to form a coherent front. The combat system is also a bit quirky (i.e. 'rotational hit and run') and air power in particular seems way too restricted and artificially weakened. Lastly, at this scale of play, there are too many 'operational' level units represented. It is a good effort, but it relies on extensive mods, none of which I am entirely happy with.

On that note, I have found that CEAW Grand Strategy has proved to be the balance I was seeking all these years. It may not be perfect, but it goes a long way to addressing my key concerns with Third Reich and Strategic Command. Specifically, I really like these aspect of the game:

1. It feels like I imagine WW2 strategic combat should. Air and armor is appropriately powerful, but not overwhelmingly so. Breakthrough, exploitation and large encirclements are achievable, while maintaining a contiguous infantry front to advance in the rear and reduce pockets. The German advance and Russian counter attack plays out quite historically and with no wild swings like in Third Reich, or the isolated mini fronts that develop in SC. You can easily maintain a large force in the field but still reach the tipping point and get forced back like in the real war but without a total collapse.
2. It is far better at realistically portraying coordinated consecutive attacks by ground units.
3. It properly simulates the grinding down of Axis resources and manpower, slowly running out of men and oil and then being overrun only quite late in the war.
4. Naval war is interesting and nuanced, but does not become an annoyance like in SC. There is variety of units and action without overshadowing the ground war in Europe. Dog piling and other annoying naval tactics from SC are avoided.
5. Historical named commanders and photos provide great atmosphere. As does the excellent sprites. It is the only WW2 game where I prefer the sprites over the NATO counters.
6. A production pipeline that allows for planning without it taking an excessive and frustratingly long time to get units deployed.
7. Oil. Everything about the way it is represented and managed is perfect for a WW2 era game. Same goes for the concept of rail heads and trucked supply. I just wish air supply was in there too. I cannot express enough how much I hated the gamey concepts of 'chaining together' HQs in Strategic Command and always running out of supply because I had head quarters a couple hexes too far apart. The Grand Strategy system is logical, elegant in execution, and highlights the true strategic level issues facing supply and logistics at this scale.
8. Force pool balance is spot on, and yet it gives you the chance to go somewhat outside historical bounds as long as you are OK to take an economic hit. It prevents 'blobbing' but does not put you in a straight jacket where you have no freedom to pursue the 'what ifs' of WW2.

My only minor gripes are the lack of stacking, and the strangely warped scale of the Atlantic Ocean. From Iceland to the Eastern Sea board of North America, nothing is at the right scale or in the right place. If the Atlantic was that small then the Romans would have colonized America! I say this with tongue in cheek humor, as I realize there is a degree of abstraction required, and the overall size of the map was probably not adjustable.

Anyway, that was something I wanted to get off my chest and share. Until something better comes along one day, Grand Strategy will be my go-to game when I need my WW2 grand strategy fix. :-)

My hope for the future is that Slitherine/Matrix or whoever owns the Commander IP will consider taking on board and preserving all the hard work and excellent attention to detail that has gone into Grand Strategy over the years. I thought for a while that the game might be re-released using the updated engine from Commander The Great War, but now even that one is starting to show its age. It would be truly wonderful to see the development of a modern engine to incorporate the Commander style of play and re-focus on WW2 grand strategy.

Peter Stauffenberg
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Re: Thank you! (and hopes for the future of CEAW)

Post by Peter Stauffenberg » Fri Jul 30, 2021 12:41 am

The warped scale of the GS map is partly caused by the development limit of not being allowed to increase the total map size.

USA and Canada are actually seen as off map locations and placed so the naval and air movement makes the unit transfers from America to Europe or Africa not too long. Greenland and Iceland are also quite compressed to function as airbases for the Allied bombers flying from USA / Canada to England.

With more historical map distances then the movement allowance of the naval and air units had to be increased quite a lot or you would had to add naval zones like in World in Flames. Having said that you can never correctly show true distances on a 2D map of a strategic area from USA to east of the Urals and from the Arctic Circle to North Africa. There are some map projections who can keep distances pretty accurate, but the map will not be easy to play with when direction to north is different in each hex.

The map is distorted in quite a few other places too. Typically at the edges. E. g. the land link between Sweden and Finland stretches further north than shown. The link was added to avoid Norway and Sweden to become islands.

The Persian Gulf and Red Sea areas are also quite compressed to be able to get a link to the land areas there.

Russia east of the Urals is also quite compressed. E. g. Omsk is quite a bit further east than shown on the map.

The angle towards north is also not uniform on the map. In Western Europe north is a bit towards north east while it's a bit towards north west in Russia. So you get strange effects like e. g. Venice being shown further west than Munich while it's the vice versa. E. g. the Balkans should have been further east. However by doing that you compress the map too much eastwards into Russia where you really want some room to manoeuver. So all maps are compromises to work pretty well locally. The main thing is to keep the distances between cities pretty accurate in each theatre of war. Then the map can be a bit inaccurate between the different theatres.

Peter Stauffenberg
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Re: Thank you! (and hopes for the future of CEAW)

Post by Peter Stauffenberg » Fri Jul 30, 2021 12:47 am

I'm not sure what plans Slitherine have for making new strategic WW2 games. I'm sure there is a market for it and they can, of course, use what knowledge they want from GS if they ever decide to explore the possibilities of a new such game. We can all only hope that something will be created one day.

All we do know is that the GS development has reached its end. The main reason is the limitations to the graphics engine and outdated development tool (Java 1.4). Not being able to run on the latest MAC versions was the final nail in the coffin for the GS project. We can soon expect the same to happen for Windows as well.

At least it was very fun to make a game like GS and show that there is a market for strategic WW2 games a bit more detailed than Axis & Allies and Third Reich without becoming too complicated like World in Flames.

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