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Posted on May 8, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Making History: The Calm & The Storm Review (PC)

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: Replay value. No two games alike. Well thought-out interface means less clicking, more playing.

Failed Basic: Some historic modeling will annoy grognards. Early period scenarios can degenerate into a Risk-like free-for-all.

In war gaming, there are some subjects that just keep coming back because they make for great game play. Ever since Avalon Hill published their classic game, Third Reich in the 70s, World War II grand strategy has been the focus of numerous games. After all, what war gamer doesn’t secretly wonder if they were in charge of Germany, Japan, or one of the Allies, would they have done better than their historic counterparts? If Germany had allied with Turkey, or Japan gone for the Panama Canal, would world history have changed? The theme of strategic warfare, mixed with diplomacy and economics is so compelling that there have been at least ten titles in the last ten years. Making History: The Calm & The Storm (MH), developed by Muzzy Lane and published by Strategy First, is the latest game to revisit the world of yesterday. The game brings together many of the best concepts from this entire generation of World War II simulations and even adds in a touch of innovation. Making History, while not the best or most innovative star in a crowded constellation, is still a solid offering, and one the brighter points of light among its many peers.

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Unlike its pure war game brethren, MH started out as a tool to teach the history of World War II in the classroom. But MH is a fun game to play and not like the dry, preachy simulations that often show up in schools. In fact most gamers who buy the title off the shelf will never guess the game’s true pedigree. But the design elements driven by this classroom heritage are still of great benefit to players across the board-a clean interface, multi-player capability, good historic background information and plenty of replay value.

History puts the player in the shoes of the supreme ruler of one of the eight major warring nations of the period: US, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Nationalist China, the Soviet Union and Japan. There are five scenarios out of the box that drop players in their nation’s historic situation in 1936, 39, 40, 41 or 44. Players can even change nations after the game has started; a great replay feature. The player then uses diplomacy, economics and military forces to drive his or her country to victory.

The game map and interface are a fairly stock offering for a grand strategy game. Each nation is divided into a dozen or so regions. Regions may have resources like oil, or iron and also might have one or two cities. Each region is rated for things like transportation infrastructure and fortifications. Clicking on the region, city or resource marker will bring up detailed information about that part of the map. Combat forces are represented by animated icons that can be given movement orders point and click style. Game play is turn-based and plotted movement is simultaneous. The game has several key screens that present a large amount of information for the player to digest and adjust but everything is easily found and managed with just a few clicks.

The economy part of the game is as solid as the whole. Nations take raw materials and use them to create industrial factors to use in the production of consumer goods, factories, military supplies, ships, air forces and ground units. Products and raw materials can also be sold to other nations directly, sent as lend lease gifts, or put up for sale on the open world market. One interesting design choice is that nations are allowed to engage in deficit spending. Except for some negligible victory point loss however, there is no penalty for racking up outrageous debts; but what do you care? After all, you are supreme ruler and war is war.

History, like most games in the genre, allows for the research and development of new military technologies. The tech tree has several levels of ground / air and naval forces, including special weapons like rockets, jets and the atom bomb. The more advanced the unit, the more military power it has. While the feature is well done, the historic modeling is somewhat off-center. For example, the US player, dedicating enough of his economy to research, can blow through almost the entire tech tree by early 42; this would have been almost impossible for the US historically but is pretty easy in the game. However, the other countries don’t have the economic engine of the US, so the pace and results of R&D have a much more historic feel.

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