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Posted on Aug 13, 2010 in Electronic Games

Making History II: The War of the World – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Making History II: The War of the World. PC Game beta review. Muzzy Lane. $39.99.

Passed Inspection: Fun, turn-based strategy

Failed Basic: Diplomacy free-for-all sometimes throws history out the door

(Editor’s note: Because Muzzy Lane is sending out patches weekly, some of the issues mentioned in this review have been fixed. Armchair General is running the review as it was written, based on the situation at the time but will note "Fixed" to indicate specific issues ML reportedly has already addressed. After reading this review, please see a report on the visit ArmchairGeneral.com‘s editor, Gerald Swick, made to Muzzy Lane’s offices early in August.)

Just tie up your inner grognard and go with where the game takes you.

World War II grand-strategy games have always taken a prominent spot on the wargamer’s PC hard-drive. The history of PC gaming is filled with great and not-so-great examples of these titles. The popularity of the genre is easy to explain: where else can a mere mortal gamer decide the fate of nations by taking a seat at the Allied or Axis table? In 2007, Muzzy Lane developed its own contender in this somewhat crowded genre. Making History: The Calm & the Storm, as it was called, was initially billed as a classroom learning tool. The game featured deep, turn-based game-play, with an easy-to-learn user interface. It didn’t take long for the wargaming community to take notice of the title and history was … errr … made.

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Now, a handful of years later, Muzzy Lane is back with Making History II: The War of the World. The game was recently released after a fairly bumpy public beta in which the gaming public has probably seen too much of the sausage being made. But I’ve been test-driving MHII over the beta bumps at Armchair General‘s request, have given the released version a good shake-down and—happily for strategy fans—I can report that a fun, easy-to-play game has emerged from the beta. But MHII‘s diplomacy model is a wild ride around the outer-limits of history, and hard-core WWII buffs may wonder what they have gotten themselves into.

MHII is a Goldilocks wargame, not too deep, and not too light. The game is easy to learn, and even beginning gamers can create worldwide havoc after a brief read through the rather thin manual. But just because MHII is easy to learn, and the manual is more like a pamphlet, doesn’t mean the game has no depth. In fact, the game features a fairly complex economic and diplomatic model.

In MHII, the colorful map covers the entire globe, and the player can take complete control of almost any nation. Most players will probably not want to play out WWII as Brazil, but in MHII, that is possible. Nations are made up of a group of provinces that may also have major cities like New York, Berlin or London.

The game is turn-based with each turn representing one week of actual time. The player first plots his moves, then, when finished, his turn is played out simultaneously with all of the AI’s nations.

During his turn, the player has a great deal of freedom to push, pull or ignore any of his nation’s controls. Diplomacy, production, infrastructure, trade and military muscle are all available with just a few mouse-clicks. In a typical turn as early war Germany for example, the player sets up close-air support research in Munich, queues production in Berlin to build a bomber group, moves a panzer corps from Poland to the French border, and tops off the turn by sending an alliance invitation to Italy.

Military units represent ground corps, air groups, or flotillas. Each of these is represented with a 3D soldier, ship, tank or plane that represents the technology and type of troops. There are many types of ground units such as engineers, heavy artillery, rocket artillery, etc. Each troop type has its own strengths. Mixing an engineer unit with your infantry, for example, will improve overall defensive capability.

As research improves your nation’s technology new unit types become available for purchase. So in 1933, the player will have biplanes, and WWI–style tanks. With a few game-years of research, the player can start to build basic medium tanks and all-metal, high-performance aircraft.

Conducting war is easy as well. It only takes a few mouse-clicks to move forces and coordinate attacks. This includes setting up bombers to provide air support, fighters to patrol the skies, and loading ground-pounders onto transport ships.

While combat is mostly a numbers game, it can take several game weeks for large battles to resolve. If both sides have roughly equal forces, there is no immediate winner and the units start a grinding war of attrition. The player can keep it going, or even win, by moving in reinforcements. This is a nice game feature, and the player who avoids these battles of attrition will probably prevail in the long run.

The economy is also easy to manage. The player uses a central screen to cycle through production centers and set up manufacturing priorities. The player can not only manufacture units, but also create coal mines, munitions, paved roads, factories and other infrastructure. While playing, the player really feels the struggle between the need to build guns vs. providing butter.

The economy game revolves around five resources: money, oil, steel, food and coal. The player produces these resources in his provinces. If the player’s stockpiles are out of balance, MHII sports a sophisticated market-trading model. The player can buy or sell resources on the world market or set up trade deals with individual nations. Despite the functionality, the trading part of the game just does not seem to be that important during actual game-play. However, the system does set up some great strategic tension around resources. One way or another, Japan will get access to oil. (Note: The trading system has been upgraded and trade routes will appear visually by choosing the trade screen.)

With all of this functionality, MHII has a bit of a self-image problem. While the game seems to want to be a serious simulation of world during the WWII era, it just does not play that way. This is mostly because the diplomatic model is very free-form, and does not script historic events. Germany is not forced into attacking Poland in 1939. Japan can try to win its war in China without grabbing oil from Dutch Indonesia. The game never tries to guide the player down history’s actual path.

The good news here is that the free-style system brings up some interesting strategic choices that can radically affect the coming war. Should Germany support Nationalist China against Japan? Should Italy risk early war with Britain over support of Nationalist Spain? The player will have many opportunities to change the course of history.

On the surface, all of this freedom from scripting sounds great. But in practice, the world of MHII can be a wild ride: The British Empire disintegrates as its colonies break away and declare independence. French colonies cede from the mother country. In 1937, Germany finds itself at war with the United States over support of Nationalist Spain. Britain declares war on Greece for no apparent reason. Russia attacks and annexes Romania. And all of this in the same game. By 1942, there seems to be only a small chance that a player will find himself with historical alliances in place.

To be fair, there is a method behind shifting diplomatic tide. Nations with similar government types tend to stick together. Provinces that have different religions or ethnicity from the mother country will not be as stable.

So with a flurry of alliances, colonies breaking away and civil wars, you would think the player might get some satisfaction out of the diplomatic game. Unfortunately, the player does not have many options to change this flow of events. Diplomacy from the player’s point of view is usually all about asking 20 times for another country to join an alliance … and they always refuse. Then once the player gives up, the would-be bride suddenly wants to get married. (Fixed.)

But alliances in MHII are of limited benefit anyway. The AI is just not good at being a friend. So while the Germans are fighting hard for every inch on the Eastern Front, their AI Italian allies are safely contemplating an invasion of Albania. This is actually a common problem with WWII grand-strategy games; the good ones usually punt by letting the player control his allies’ forces, but MHII does not.

Still, MHII is a fun game to play. Just tie up your inner grognard and go with where the game takes you. Play the game more like Hasbro’s classic Risk than a serious simulation of WWII, and the game is actually quite a good time. For this reviewer, the game certainly has that elusive "just one more turn" factor.

MHII comes with three scenarios; 1933, 1936 and 1939. These give good coverage to the years before the war, and allow the player to shape his military-industrial complex. As Germany, do you invest heavily in your navy? Or, do you go straight for the atom bomb?

But these scenarios are long, and the player will quickly miss the lack of later war scenarios. While MHII does have a fairly quick pace, even the shortest scenario still needs two or three gaming sessions to get through its 325 turns. Also, since the diplomatic model is so free-flowing, it would be nice to have an early 1942 scenario, with historical alliances in place.

The AI is pretty standard for games of this type. Not brilliant, but it knows how to keep your interest—mostly. If the German player ignores his French border … well, there goes the Thousand Year Reich. If Germany waffles over action in Eastern Europe, AI Russia takes Romania. But the AI also does a few dumb things as well. In one game, AI Britain decided to hold onto its biplanes. So Germany went into a late-war Battle of Britain with jets fighting biplanes. In another game, the AI US tried to invade occupied France with a fleet consisting of troopships and a few destroyers.

For those players who want a higher level of challenge; the game does support multi-player network games. Strangely, there is no PBEM support.

MHII‘s public beta was bumpy, and there are still a few potholes, but they aren’t game killers. Even with the latest patch (this review was finished on version 1.0.9) there is an occasional crash, but the autosave feature helps make this tolerable. The interface also has some quirks. Research and production is often tied to specific infrastructure types; you need an aircraft factory to build fighters for example. But the interface does not make it easy to find an aircraft factory, and the player finds himself clicking around to find one. Also, some things just don’t seem to work. Despite many clicks and hitting every key on the keyboard, this reviewer could not figure out how to fire his V-2 rockets at England. (Fixed.)

All-in-all, Making History II is a welcome addition to the pantheon of WWII grand-strategy games. It’s fun, easy to play and has enough depth for even the most campaign-hardened strategy gamer. MHII is the kind of game where you start to play after dinner, and when you look up, its 2 a.m. Still, the game has some rough spots despite Muzzy Lane’s active support; players who are really bothered by such things may want to let the game settle a bit before jumping in. But for the rest of us, fire up Making History II and remember Winston Churchill’s advice: "Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be."

Armchair General Score: 75%

For more information on the design philosophy behind MHII and some of its recent updates, click here to see a report by ArmchairGeneral.com‘s editor, Gerald Swick.

Larry Levandowski has been a wargamer for more than 30 years, and started computer gaming back in the days of the C-64. Until he recently discovered the virtues of DOS box and virtual machines, much of his computer game collection was unplayable. A former US Army officer, Larry has done his share of sitting in foxholes. Since leaving the Army, he has worked in the Information Technology field, as a programmer, project manager and lead bottle washer. He now spends his spare time playing boardgames, Napoleonic and WWII miniatures, as well as any PC game he can get his hands on.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with this review 100%. I’ve played this game since early Beta and it has some problems but it’s almost like a random thing. Some games are wild with countries declaring war on each other for no reason or a reason you can’t understand but other games are more in line to what actually happened during WWII. It’s all about the roll of the dice here. I always play the Axis nations or a neutral country like Norway, Australia and even tiny New Zealand to see if I can take it to a world power and world conquest which can be a challenge but rewarding at the same time.

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