HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 04:40am on 1 September, 1939, waves of Luftwaffe aircraft began bombing and strafing airfields all across Poland. Almost simultaneously, 44 German infantry divisions and 14 armored divisions surged across the frontier catching Poland’s thirty-odd infantry and cavalry divisions completely by surprise. Without bothering with the inconvenient formality of a declaration of war, Hitler had ordered the invasion and subjugation of his smaller neighbor. The concentric German attacks cut-off whole Polish armies, and those units that could extricate themselves from the rapidly closing German vise, fell back on Warsaw. The Polish attempt to defend at the frontier had been a complete disaster. Nor could the Poles look for any assistance from the East. Seventeen days after the start of the German offensive, Soviet troops poured across a nearly-prostrate Poland’s eastern border to join with the Germans in the Polish nation’s final dismemberment. England and France, although incapable of providing the Poles with any immediate direct assistance, both quickly demonstrated their political support by declaring war on Hitler’s Germany; for the second time in a generation, Europe’s Great Powers had gone to war. Tragically, the greatest conflict in human history, seemingly almost by accident, had begun without any of its participants understanding its future geographical reach, its ultimate magnitude, or its unbelievable human and material cost.
WORLD WAR II: European Theater of Operations is a strategic level simulation of the air-land-sea war that ignited with the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and then quickly spread until, by the time it finally ended in 1945, it had engulfed all but a few corners of the globe. Although this game shares the same title as the SPI game: WORLD WAR II: European Theater of Operations, 1939-45, which was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1973; it is neither an expansion nor a refinement of the earlier game. Rather, it presents a completely new design approach that is far more complex, more richly textured, and much more detailed in its historical treatment of the war in Europe than its predecessor.
The outline of the typical game turn in WORLD WAR II reveals a great deal about the focus of the newer version’s design. Each sequence of three monthly game turns begins with a Seasonal Turn. During this important “seasonal” phase of the game, individual players activate minor country allies, collect income, construct or rebuild depleted units, and pay for all offensives to be conducted during the next three monthly game turns. This last operation is important because the side (Axis or Allies) that pays for the most offensives, gains the “initiative” for the next three game turns. Once alliance initiative has been established, a typical monthly game turn proceeds in the following order: Weather Phase; Strategic Warfare Phase; Naval and Air Phase; Offensive Phase; Movement Phase; and End Phase. Each of these individual game phases is then further subdivided into multiple game segments, each of which must be executed in strict order.
The basic game system of WORLD WAR II is actually quite familiar. Regular combat units all exert a zone of control (ZOC) into the six surrounding hex sides. ZOCs are semi-rigid, but not “sticky.” Infantry units must stop upon entering an enemy ZOC, but armored units may continue for one additional hex in an enemy ZOC before being obliged to halt. Combat between adjacent enemy units is not mandatory and, in fact, is only possible if the attackers have been activated to participate in an “offensive” operation. Army group headquarters and generals are present in the game, not only to add historical color, but also because they both play critical roles in the conduct of army offensives. Combat between ground units is resolved using a standard “odds differential” combat results table, and most terrain, supply, command, and other effects are represented using die-roll modifiers (DRMs) all of which exert a cumulative influence on the final combat outcome. Ground combat in WORLD WAR II is almost always both dynamic and fluid. The Offensive Phase can, for the defending player, produce a nerve-racking series of sequenced battles: regular combat, followed by breakthroughs, followed finally by exploitation attacks. For this reason, defense in depth and reserves are not merely a good idea, they are critical for every player, whether attacking or defending. Most combat units have two steps: a “full” strength side, and an inverted “reduced” strength side. Thus, units typically must take two loss results before being removed from the map.
Stacking is limited to two units per hex in most terrain; however, in city resource hexes it is increased to three units. Soviet stacking is an exception: the Soviet player may stack one additional unit in either type of terrain, for a total of three and four units, respectively. Generals, army group headquarters, paratroops, and information markers do not count against regular stacking. The rules governing supply in WORLD WAR II are relatively generous. Any friendly resource city hex can supply an unlimited number of friendly units; moreover, supply can be traced overland, by sea, or to an airhead. Units that are unsupplied suffer no immediate reduction in movement or combat capability; however, if a unit is left unsupplied for two consecutive monthly turns, it is reduced, if at full strength, and eliminated, if it is already at reduced strength. Ground operations, as might be expected, represent the backbone of the game system, but air and naval operations are also quite important. Fortunately, although both the air and naval subroutines have multiple phases, neither of them is particularly complicated or cumbersome to execute within the context of the larger game. Both subroutines do, however, add significantly to the flow of the game. For example, the air rules make it possible for players to conduct air transport, air supply, and airborne operations, as well as ground support and bombing missions; and the naval rules are detailed enough to include, among other things, naval interception, German surface raiders, sea transport and escort, and amphibious landings.
In the interconnected areas of Strategic Warfare and Economic Production, and also in the realm of Ground Combat important similarities can be seen between Douglas Niles’ WORLD WAR II, and two of John Prados’ games: THIRD REICH (1974) and PANZERKRIEG (1978). The economic component of Niles’ design, like that in THIRD REICH, concentrates mainly on rebuilding reduced or destroyed combat units; the “Strategic Warfare” portion of his game, as was the case historically, focuses on the Battle of the Atlantic, and on the strategic bombing campaigns conducted by both Germany and the Allies. As an interesting aside, the treatment of minor neutrals on the initial game turn of an enemy invasion is virtually identical to that in THIRD REICH. In addition, the execution of breakthroughs and exploitation combat in WORLD WAR II, as well as the importance of commanders and headquarters units, are all handled very similarly to the way that these separate combat elements are dealt with in PANZERKRIEG.
Not surprisingly, special rules that add to the historical 'flavor' of WORLD WAR II are numerous. There are, for instance, rules that affect “Home Country Reinforcements;” rules that restrict or, in the case of marshal “Zhukov,” enhance Soviet combat operations. There are also rules that confer combat advantages on the Germans because of “German Tactical Superiority;” that provide for the creation of “Partisans,” and even for the construction of “Permanent Fortresses.” In addition, other rules impose certain “Historical Restrictions” on the belligerents that tend both to recreate historical events and that guide the relations between allies along historically plausible lines as the war continues.
The winner in either the two-player, or multi-player versions of WORLD WAR II is determined, in the shorter scenarios, much the same way that victory is determined in THIRD REICH, through the control of city resource hexes (objective hexes) at the end of the game. In the case of the Campaign Game, different levels of victory are possible depending on which of the major powers are still standing at the end of the game. If none of the players has achieved either a “decisive” or a “major” victory by game end, then a “marginal” victory can still be won by the player (Axis, Soviet, or Western Allies) who controls the most city resource hexes at the end of the June 1945.
WORLD WAR II offers six scenarios of varying lengths each of which provides a snapshot of the War in Europe at different stages during the conflict. Scenario 1: Case White, is a solitaire scenario of the German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, and is intended to familiarize players with the basic game system before moving on to longer, more complex game situations. Scenarios 2 and 3: Blitzkrieg! begin on the Spring 1940 seasonal turn; Scenario 2 ends at the conclusion of the September, 1940, monthly turn; Scenario 3 continues through June, 1945. Scenarios 4 and 5: Poised for Onslaught, begin on the Summer 1941 seasonal turn; Scenario 4 ends at the conclusion of the December 1941 monthly turn; Scenario 5 ends just like Scenario 3. The final option, the Campaign Game: Europe Ablaze covers the entire war, from the invasion of Poland through to June 1945. In addition to the various scenarios offered with the game, the designer has also included a number of “optional” rules that the players may add individually or collectively to vary the game or to improve play-balance between unequal opponents.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONWhen I first began to read the rules to WORLD WAR II, I had to check the back of the box to reassure myself that John Prados had not designed the game. To say that this title is highly derivative of THIRD REICH and PANZERKRIEG is to make an understatement. There are, of course, other influences in the design, as well; however, for better or for worse, there is nary a hint of Jimmy Dunnigan’s original WORLD WAR II (1973), anywhere to be found. Because John Prados’ fingerprints are all over this game system, it should come as no surprise that WORLD WAR II has very much the feel of a highly detailed, much less abstracted THIRD REICH. For some players, that fact might be a problem; for my own part, since I still like THIRD REICH — even after all these years — I find the extra detail, although time-consuming, generally acceptable. Moreover, the SPI/TSR maps are a vast improvement over anything that ever ended up being published in a typical Prados design. And, of course, personally being very interested in how games handle the problems of command and control, and organization of forces, I did not find the extensive set of rules governing offensive operations all that off-putting. That being said, WORLD WAR II is certainly not for everyone. To start with, it is not a simple game either to learn, or to play, once learned; and were it not for the fact that the unit density is relatively low, an individual game turn could easily get to be quite tedious. Fortunately, compared to most of the true monster games, this one is really pretty manageable. In that sense, it occupies an interesting space among World War II game designs somewhere between the truly “big” titles, and the “play it in an afternoon” type of games. Of course, for those players who want to turn this title into a true monster, all they have to do is link it to its design doppelganger, WORLD WAR II: Pacific Theater of Operations. These two titles, when combined, will definitely give a dedicated monster player as big a game as he could ever want. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this title, or its Pacific War cousin, for that matter, to a novice; however, for the experienced gamer with an interest in the Second World War, I think that that he could do far worse. In my view, WORLD WAR II: European Theater of Operations offers a nicely-textured, historically-detailed simulation that, in spite of its lack of originality, is both an interesting competitive challenge, and an enjoyable game to play .
- Time Scale: 1 month per game turn (with seasonal strategic cycles at the beginning of every three game turns)
- Map Scale: 50 miles per hex
- Unit Size: corps/army, aircraft squadron, individual capital ship, and naval squadron
- Unit Types: generals, army group headquarters, infantry, armor, paratroop, aircraft (various types), naval (various types), fortifications, airfields, construction markers, and information markers
- Number of Players: 2-5 (teams highly recommended, particularly for the campaign game)
- Complexity: medium/high
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 4-50+ hours (depending on scenario)
- Two 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Key, Combat Results Table, Bombing Table, various nationalities’ Force Pool and Destroyed Units Boxes, Air & Sea Transport Costs Charts, Western Allies ASW, Offensive, EP, and Transport Tracks, Western Allies Economic Point Costs Chart, assorted Convoy Boxes, Western and Axis Strategic Bombing Boxes, Axis Offensive, EP, and Transport Tracks, Axis Economic Point Costs Chart, Soviet Offensive, EP, and Transport Tracks, Soviet Economic Point Costs Chart, Soviet Transfer Box, and Die Roll Modifier Quick Reference Chart incorporated)
- 800 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Axis Order of Battle Chart with Monthly Turn Sequence “Quick Reference” Guide
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed Allied order of Battle Chart with Monthly Turn Sequence “Quick Reference” Guide
- One 8½” x 11” Errata Sheet (dated 1985)
- One 8¾” x 11½” flat 20 compartment plastic Storage Tray with locking clear plastic Cover
- Two large six-sided Dice
- One 11¾” x 9¼” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box