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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

In the area of diplomacy, MH does offer some innovation with its treatment of alliances. Nations not only can ally with others, but there is a real sense of belonging to a group of allies. Creating and managing alliances is a critical factor to winning the game, and only the US is capable of going it alone. Your allies all have minds and competing interests of their own. Many of your nation’s diplomatic actions, like offering or accepting a request to join the alliance, are subject to the approval of other nations in your alliance. Want Hungary to join your German / Italian alliance? Well, Il Duce might veto the addition because of some ancient ill-will. The bigger alliances become, the more powerful they are but also the more inflexible.

Alliances have a very large influence on how the game plays. In late war scenarios, the pre-existing alliances tend to keep the game within historic bounds. The 1936 scenario however, is a roller-coaster ride. In that game, the only major pre-existing alliance is the British Commonwealth, so strange non-historic alignments often warp the game into something more like Risk than WWII. One 1936 game saw a Japan / Commonwealth, alliance take on a Soviet /German juggernaut, while a US / Italy / China alliance sat on the sidelines. One very positive benefit from the dynamic alliance system is that no two games are alike, so replay value is very high.

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Besides joining and staying in a strong alliance, the other element of victory is combat. Inevitably, your nation will either attack or be attacked. Because of the alliance system, even minor fights, quickly spark global conflict. The basic military unit is a ground division of artillery, armor or mechanized troops. A variety of naval and air units are also available. These are organized into army, air or naval groups. When troops of two nations at war end up in the same region, combat occurs. Large or evenly matched battles may last several turns, as each participant rushes fresh reinforcements into the fight. Allies will often add troops into the mix, but the player has no control of how much or how often. When one side has destroyed or pushed out the other, the winner takes the region, and combat is over.

Some combat units have special roles as they did in real life. Bomber units can take out enemy cities, resources or support ground forces. Fighter units can patrol regions to beat off enemy air attacks. Carriers have aircraft that can attack adjacent regions and destroyers are great against submarines. The different unit types each play a role in combat but mostly the player with the highest quality and quantity of troops will win the battle.

There are a few aspects to the military system that will put off players who are looking for a very historic feel to their game. Unit production happens at a prodigious pace. Larger cities can sometimes produce an infantry division in a single one week turn. Historically, it took months for a nation to put a division together from scratch. Another issue is that there is no logistical tether on combat operations. For example, players can land troops anywhere without having to worry about supply lines or support. In one game, a German alliance with Nationalist Spain brought war with China, which was allied to Republican Spain. Within a handful of turns, the Chinese landed massive armies on the German Baltic coast and proceeded to roll over Northern Germany. The game was fun and intense, but not very historic.

The game supports multi-player setup over a LAN or the Internet. Strangely, the game is turn based, but does not offer a PBEM option; this limits many players to just locking horns with the AI. This is not too much of a problem however since the AI can hold its own and is usually aggressive. In fact, if the player finds themselves going it alone against a large alliance, they better sue for peace, early and often.

Overall, Making History: The Calm & The Storm is a fun, solid simulation. The game is recommended for anyone who wants more than a beer and pretzel view of World War II, but who also can’t devote a major portion of their life to a more detailed game. Grognards, if they can just relax and ignore some historical inaccuracy, may also like the game. History is not breaking any new ground or offering more than just a handful of innovations. Still, Muzzy Lane and Strategy First have given us a good game that is somewhat deep, fairly easy to play and may even teach you a few things about World War II.

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