Making History: The Great War
Passed Inspection: Great historical detail and breadth, excellent AI, allows innovative strategies, much replay value
Failed Basic: Steep learning curve, bland graphics, only two long scenarios.
All war games allow players to change history: Pickett’s charge may work if done well; an early Allied attack in the West could end World War II in 1939. Yet, all these examples work within strict parameters. Players have limited freedom of action to keep the games from being wildly ahistorical. Muzzy Lane’s Making History series shows how to give players vast latitude while not going into science-fiction style alternatives. Their latest game, Making History: The Great War, is great example of how intense research in a period creates a game that allows players to think and act outside the box without violating the realities of the period under study.
Appearance Isn’t Everything.
The graphics for this game won’t win even Honorable Mention at an eye-candy convention. Maps—covering around 200 countries, colonies and protectorates—are simply bland with cities tending to look alike, resources blurry at even the closest zoom and terrain features such as rivers and mountains not very outstanding. The military sprites have the correct uniform types but do not inspire any “OOOHs.” Some ships and aircraft, including zeppelins, are exceptions to the usual blandness. Animations indicate movement and combat but can block access to the yellow-orange blotches that provide information on battles. The poster-like announcements of events at the beginning of turns provide nice breaks from the visual monotony, as does the parade of era-correct flags.
However, game play depends on functionality, not glitz and Making History: The Great War provides functional graphic effects in spades. Twelve map overlays provide information on matters such as diplomacy, national stability, resources, demographics and supply. Each map has color-coded sub-categories related to the issue—for example, the resource map is broken down into resource type with levels of production. Zooming in and out, these maps can give players solid understanding of their empire. This understanding is further expanded by a myriad of tables accessed through seven tabs that open up windows for factors like politics, the military, trade and production. Each window, in turn, yields multiple levels of detail on the subject. The military window shows all of an empire’s forces and then breaks them down by land, sea, and air units. This breakdown continues in groups for each unit type with a further panel to give empire-level orders. Helpful tool tips clarify each sub-division of all factors in a window. Moving around maps and the research tree can be done through arrow keys or “grabbing” with a left click and dragging the map.
Simpler but perhaps more important are the elements in the bar at the top of the screen. The elements represent the stockpiles of arms, food, metal, steel, fuel, oil, coal, gas shells and money. Mousing over each shows how much of that resource is in storage versus the amount in demand. The similar boxes to the left show the same things for road, rail and shipping capacity. Right-clicking anywhere on an empire allows selection of the empire’s statistics and status for economics, internal affairs, research and diplomatic ties. Taxes can be raised and diplomatic actions made from this window. The sound effects in this game are as bland but functional as the graphics and the music, while nice for a few minutes, invokes Benjamin Britten at his most somnambulant. The tutorial scenario uses Austro-Hungary during the summer of 1914 to teach basic gameplay, and the 56-page PDF manual is fairly comprehensive but lacks page numbers in the table of contents. The tutorial and manual are helpful but nothing can truly prepare gamers for the scope and detail of the game. New players may be better off playing “plucky little” Belgium to begin.
In the Deep End
Making History: The Great War is a turn-based game with week-long turns. Other than the tutorial, the game comes with two scenarios: the inevitable July 1914 run-up to the war and one that begins in 1912. Players can choose one of the eight Great Powers or select a smaller country. The game can continue for eight years after the scenario start with victory decided by the amount of victory points gained through territorial gains, military power, regional improvements and research.
The July 1914 scenario begins with all powers ready for war. Austria-Hungary will go after Serbia, and war of some sort will happen. Military matters become the focus of play with the other aspects subordinate to the demands of war. True, peace can be made, but usually just as a breather before re-starting the fighting. The 1912 scenario is where all aspects of the game are of equal importance.
In 1912, the world is open for players. Perusal of resource stockpiles is a good start to determine direction. Shortages in metal, coal and food can be rectified by right-clicking on regions to create infrastructure to increase output of coal and metals or to build better farms for more food. If stockpiles are solid, building amenities like hospitals, power stations and universities in regions may help stability. Improving roads and railroads allows for better transport of goods and resources—and troops if necessary; some heavy artillery units require railroads. Any improvements cost resources so players should resist the urge to overbuild and should look at what their cities are producing to either decrease the need for a resource or increase a particular capacity.
If needed resources are not present in an empire, trade is the answer. Trade is handled in two ways. Empires can choose to buy or sell resources on the world market or try to get a trade agreement with a specific nation. Prices are fixed by the game but players can control the amount purchased or sold. Limitations on trade not only affect diplomatic relations and money but also reduce rail and shipping capacity. Every import and export reduces these capacities.
Cities are another important cog in the economic wheel. Clicking on a city (or scrolling through cities) shows the number of factories it has and if it recruits troops. An empty factory slot can be filled with the factory type, dependent on the city’s infrastructure and available resources. An order slot reveals possibilities for buildings. Again, the benefits of factories may be outweighed by the costs of not only building them but providing the raw materials for production. Other buttons show the city’s tax income, buildings, factories and recruitment order.
The research tree has three levels: pre-industrial, early industrialization and machine age. Great powers begin with most of the early industrial projects already completed but a few remain. Depending on players’ strategy, uncompleted industrial projects can be mopped up or players can begin researching the machine age. The costs in money and research points are found by clicking on the encyclopedia button, which also explains benefits accrued and prerequisites. Research points are gained by building universities and research centers.
Despite all the building, Making History: The Great War is not a country-building game; improvements and resource management are secondary to governing. Selecting the country tab brings up the issues players must cope with internally. Right-clicking a region and then choosing “Select (Whichever Empire Being Played)” will bring up the government window. Clicking the flag opens the governmental choices list. Here, players can adjust taxes and increase or decrease funding to social programs, religion, education, propaganda and purging corruption. Also possible is ordering a trade offer from a colony, relocating a capitol or, if a rebellion occurs and a splinter nation is created, funding a coup against the rebels. All these options should be made in conjunction with the regional map overlay to check on national stability and unrest.
Diplomacy is the other hand of governance. Clicking on a nation or picking it from the list from the diplomacy tab allows the usual functions of trade agreements, military access, territorial concessions, alliances or war. The shadier side of diplomacy has financial support for the government, faction or coup attempts. Diplomatic moves of multi-ethnic empires should coincide with domestic policy.
The Sharp End
Regardless of how pacific players act, their empire will eventually be drawn into a war. Signs of impending conflicts can be seen in notification pop-ups at the beginning of turns, announcing diplomatic moves and wars as well as interesting events like the Titanic’s sinking. Some events will have no interest to players but others may be crucial, particularly those events that require players’ response. For instance, the US won’t care about the activities of the Dervish but will care about Mexican affairs. The diplomacy window will list wars and allow players to support sides. However, taking sides requires a military.
An empire’s military has four parts, the troops, navy, fledging air force and artillery. Each of these is broken down by type, e.g., infantry, engineers, dreadnoughts, rigid airships and field guns. Troop types are recruited from cities, artillery is built at cities with steel and tool factories, ships are constructed at shipyards and planes at hangers. Although always called armies, troops seem to be regiments, guns are batteries and aircraft are squadrons. Ships are shown individually. Units can be merged into larger groups which can then be split. The military panel yields group positions, costs and combat power. This panel is also used to set readiness and mobilization levels. High levels increase combat prowess but is expensive. As war looms, armed forces should be readied but going to general mobilization too fast is not only expensive, it sends a dangerous signal to neighbors. Units are moved individually by selecting them and right-clicking on destinations. Movement options include road and rail travel if transportation capacity is sufficient. Aircraft need an airbase at the destination, but naval forces move freely.
War can be started in two ways: by simply moving a unit into a foreign country or declaring war via diplomacy. The latter course is best as players can call on alliance members to join the fray. Land combat happens when enemy units meet in a region, although heavy howitzers can bombard from adjacent regions, with observation balloons decreasing the chance of friendly fire casualties. Battles are marked by splotches; their names appear when moused over. Clicking on a battle shows each army’s number of units, attack and defense modifiers, and morale. Once commenced, players can only reinforce a battle, which will end when one side’s morale drops to a low point. Morale drop is a function of a force’s percentage losses, so a large force can lose several units without significant morale effects. Naval combat is very similar, but submarines and merchant raiders can interdict enemy shipping.
Battles can last for weeks and players who focus on one area of operations may feel bored just clicking through turns. They would be wrong. Events are happening around the world and the AI has surprises. Allies may change sides, war weariness may cause civil war and the AI may do something completely opposite of the historical track, such as Germany abandoning the Schlieffin plan and using Moltke the Elder’s “Russia First” strategy. Players should look to their colonies, either to defend them or go on the offensive. Research will provide new weapons that may decide the war. All this time, players also need to tend domestic affairs. Military operations, though crucial, are only part of this game.
Replay possibilities are tremendous given the number of countries to be played, a very surprising AI and multi-play via Steam. A newly added editor will allow mods when a manual is finished for it.
Making History: The Great War can be improved. An auto-victory option based on gains and losses could accommodate players who don’t want to wait 435 turns to see which empire has the most points. Another option would be to give players a bit more control over battles. These recommendations in no way neglect the fact that this game is a superlative experience in learning, creativity and entertainment.
Armchair General Rating: 89%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.