War in the East 2 Review – The Ultimate WW2 East Front Experience
War in the East 2 was published in early April 2021, so it’s already been out for quite a while. We’ve been hard at work testing the game and writing WitE2 editor guides. It’s about time we do a full review of the game, especially as the game has received quite a few patches ironing out the kinks. But let’s take a look at quick details on the game first:
Single player against AI, 2 player hotseat, PBEM and play via server
Two sides, Axis and Soviet
Turn-based game with each turn covering a week of the war
You can fight the whole war from 1941 to 1945, start from later years, or play smaller scenarios
On map units are regiments, brigades, divisions, corps, and air groups.
Hex-based map, with each hex represeting roughly ten miles
Definetly not a beer and pretzels wargame
Tactical, operational or strategic control – which one fits WitE2?
War in the East 2 seeks to represent World War 2 on the Eastern Front. This pits the German and Axis allies against the Soviet forces. Other areas of the map are represented as theatre boxes, in which the fighting is automatic and scripted, and on which the player has little to no control. The far northern front, or in other words the Finnish front, is also presented as such a box. The remaining map covers an area roughly from Leningrad to Baku and Berlin to the Urals.
Once you start zooming in from the big strategic picture, you enter the operational battlefield. Here Axis regiments, brigades and divisions are pitted against Soviet divisions and corps. Both sides have somewhat different force setups, with the Rifle and Tank Corps functioning as the heavy hitters for the Soviets, with the German Panzer and Mechanized Divisions being their respective trump cards. Smaller units usually only function as speed bumps or temporary flank guards for encircled units.
Each ground unit that you find on the map is represented by a counter. The numbers on these counters display stats, such as movement points or combat value. The higher the better, as per the usual. A keen eye can also see other factors displayed on the counters, and to understand what those mean you need to start reading the manual. And trust us, you are going to be reading that manual quite a lot. The map itself is made up of hexes, each about ten times ten miles in size. Unlike in the original War in the East, this is not a hand-painted map, instead, it is created from data. This also means that there’s a lot of room for editing and fixing mistakes, but we’ll get to modding later on.
Your mission in the game is to move your units along the hexes, deciding on the best route and action to defeat the enemy counters. Click to move, right-click to attack and watch the battle unfold. It sounds simple, but there’s quite a bit more into it than that. Especially when it comes to making sure that your air force does its job too.
How the winner of the War in the East is determined
The winner of each scenario is based on victory points. These can be earned by destroying enemy troops, capturing key locations and from random events. Each scenario comes with pre-determined victory locations. These can also be assigned a time bonus, or an early capture bonus. So if you capture a key location ahead of the historical timeline, you can earn extra points. Lose it ahead of time, and you can lose the per turn points you might be getting otherwise.
These victory points aren’t just a simple value to compare at the end of the game either. One of the most important things to understand is the initiative system. Whichever side holds the initiative can aim to reach the sudden victory goal. This means that if you reach a certain point level you will automatically win then and there. Now, when playing against the AI this isn’t much of a concern. But against a human player it’s something to keep an eye on. There is also a sudden defeat option, should you not hold enough victory point locations as Axis.
Whoever holds the initiative, and whatever points are needed, depends on the scenario. Starting in 1941 the initiative obviously belongs to the Axis. To keep it, and avoid a sudden loss, they must capture enough VP locations before the inevitable Soviet Winter Offensive.
There are checks made on pre-determined turns, again depending on what the scenario designer has chosen to best represent the reality. The initiative can only change likewise during a set timeframe. It can never change back after this. The mechanism is quite simple. For example in the above screenshot, if the Axis hold 10% less VP than their High Watermark between October of 1942 and July of 1943 (the most VPs they have ever held), then the initiative switches to Soviets. If the game reaches July of 1943, the initiative changes to Soviets automatically.
This means that the Axis have a chance to win the war until 1943, after which is the Soviet’s turn to try and reach the sudden victory levels. Otherwise, the winner is determined when Berlin falls and the scores are calculated. It’s worth mentioning that the initiative doesn’t affect the gameplay in any other way, it won’t for example give attack bonuses or any other such things. It’s just used to determine the winner.
A complicated equipment production model
No, you won’t be able to switch your factories to just producing Tigers or T34’s. As the Soviet player, you don’t even get to decide when to move your factories (this is automated). What you can do is try and manage your units to the best of your abilities. To know how to do that effectively, you do need to understand how the production model works.
On the map, you’ll find countless cities and towns, and each one of these can hold different production abilities. They might produce oil or fuel, resources, supplies or armaments. They might spew out manpower and all sorts of equipment.
Generally speaking, aircraft, vehicles, tanks and other comparable equipment is produced via dedicated factories, which will spew out chassis after chassis based on historical data. These factories can upgrade to produce other equipment as the war goes on. It’s worth noting that chassis is not the same as tank, or an airplane. The same chassis can be used for several different types of vehicles, giving a bit of flexibility for the system based on your losses and force setup.
Ground elements, which includes everything from rifle and support squads into heavy artillery are produced on-demand and based on your armament points and available manpower, and of course whatever your troops and units are in need of.
All of this production is automated and does not require nor take any player input. The supplies, armaments, resources, fuel, oil and equipment are produced, distributed and used automatically. But what you do get to influence are the logistics on how all of these end up with your troops.
What the units in WitE2 look like
Each unit can be thought of as a container. They have all sorts of values, like experience, morale, fatigue, supplies and so on. More importantly, they have equipment assigned. Each unit has a type, which determines the sort of TOE (table of organisation and equipment) that it uses. These TOEs upgrade throughout the war, so a 1941 rifle division will look quite different from a 1945 rifle division.
The equipment is drawn from pools, which are filled via production. Logistics and the flow of the game naturally play an important role, which means that quite often you will need to withdraw your depleted units behind the lines to receive adequate replacements. Different equipment all play a different role in combat and in game. Support squads are needed for anything to function, artillery will fire long-range and rifle squads will hold the line. Notice also that there is a Wiki link for quite a few of these units, giving you access to historical information via the in-game encyclopedia.
It’s worth noting that besides these on-map containers, you have the support units. These can range from anti-tank brigades to pioneer battalions and even machinegun companies. These are usually found in the HQ units, from which they can support any unit that is part of the same chain of command. So for example an infantry division under the same HQ with an anti-tank company might get the help of the latter when defending against a panzer division. Some special units will also be shown on the map at times, such as the railroad repair troops.
Units follow a hierarchical Order of Battle. Divisions belong to corps, which belong to armies, which belong to army groups, which belong to high commands. These differ for both sides, but follow the same principles.
Scratching your head with the logistics
This is probably the hardest part of the game to understand and master, and the most important when it comes to overall success. Your panzers will not move, your planes will not fly and your troops will not be fed unless they are within range of your depots. All of the goods you need to win the war move along railroads, and in some cases from port to port. Sea and air transport do have their uses at times, but the War in the East is definitely a war on land and air.
The game comes with single and double rail lines. What’s the difference? Well, the double rail can move more cargo. Double rail can carry up to 30 000 tons per turn, whereas a single rail line can only carry 12 000 tons per turn. Truth be told, this part of the game is somewhat masked and very hard to understand. What you really need to know, is that you need as many operational rail lines as possible. When you capture ground from the enemy, these rail lines are automatically damaged (barring any special rules), and need to be repaired with the help of automatic repair units and player-controlled units, both of which come in limited numbers. Where and when you repair rail lines has a huge impact on where and when you can advance, or defend.
Now, the supplies won’t just move randomly. Players need to place their supply depots, which can take quite a bit of effort to manage. There are four levels of depots, though the levels are just used to determine the priority of the depot. The highest priority depots get the most supplies. Depots can only draw supplies from lower priority depots. Each depot has a supply capacity, which depends on the level of railroad available on the hex. This can be further increased by placing a Headquarters unit there, which allows stocking and delivering more supplies. Placing one of your precious railroad repair units in the same hex will allow prioritising supply draw even more. Useful for making sure that your schwerpunkt (or armour ball in WitE2 terms) receives all the fuel it needs.
Finally, it’s not enough that your rail lines function. You also need trucks. Unless your units are within three hexes of a depot, in which case the supply is considered local, or horse-drawn. Otherwise, everything is delivered forwards with trucks. Don’t have enough trucks and no supplies get anywhere.
Let’s get on with the air combat
Here’s where the tactical dimension comes into play. No, you don’t get to decide which soldier to shoot, where to aim your tank gun or fly your very own Stuka. This isn’t a first-person shooter. That said, the combat isn’t exactly just defence and attack value as in a lot of other strategy or operation wargames. War in the East 2 goes into far more detail than this.
Each turn is divided into two phases. First is the air combat. This allows players to set up air directives, move around their planes and air groups, decide which units to support and where to use specialised missions. Truth be told, though at the moment you can do all sorts of city bombings, naval patrols and air superiority missions, as the game currently stands you’re just going to be using ground support, and even that sparingly. This part of the game can also be automated, which is probably suggested for beginners. For optimal gameplay, you want to definitely know what you’re doing with your air forces. There’s also a ton of things that you can tweak, such as the armament of your planes, the altitude, mission percentages and much more. This is quite complex and requires reading of WitE2 Air Guides to understand and make the most out of.
The directives, or missions, can be divided into two groups. Ones that are immediately executed, and others that play out during the ground phase. The latter is automatic interception of enemy planes and ground support from either side. Having hundreds of bombers, or even dozens, show up for a battle can change the tide completely.
What’s important in this area is to set up your air forces so that they cover your forces in areas where you are attacking, or at least have fighters where the enemy is attacking. It’s not just about planes, as pilots and their experience play a great role in how everything works. As you can expect, the Soviet planes are often shot out of the sky, though the situation does change as the war progresses.
Losses do not only come from air battles and firing guns. Operational losses play a big part of the equation, as they did in the actual war. Run a ton of missions and you will definitely lose a ton of planes, even with no enemy action whatsoever. And you will also end up losing those precious pilots.
Ground Combat in WitE2
Though the air combat is a complex beast in itself, it only servers to support the ground phase. This is the game itself, moving your units to attack enemy units. But what exactly goes on behind the hood once the forces do collide? To start with, there are two types of attacks that you can do: hasty and deliberate. The former represent an attack on the move, and can only be done with units on the same hex. The latter, a dedicated assault to take the position, which can be done by all units next to the target hex. Naturally, in both cases units will be needing movements points to conduct the actual attacks. Furthermore, units can be set to reserve mode, in which case they can take part in the attacks.
Whichever attack you choose, the same combat mechanics will be used, though the battle might play out differently. To summarise things, both sides start at a set distance and close in, with all sorts of equipment firing at enemy targets. They can hit or miss, they can cause destroyed, damaged or disrupted hits. Players can set the level of detail from 0 to 7, with zero showing nothing but the result, and 7 displaying each action taken. There are a lot of statistics found in the final results that further explain what exactly happened during the battle.
Another thing to understand is the Combat Values. These are calculated theoretical attack and defence values. Whilst the combat engine itself produces the losses, it’s the combat values that are used to determine the actual outcome. These are further enhanced by fortifications, terrain, commander, support units and many other factors. Usually, 2:1 advantage is required to win a battle for the attacker.
Sure enough, it’s still just numbers and values and formulas, but what else could you possibly do at this level? And in my experience, this is a very complicated model that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. It’s also being constantly tweaked, with improvements added and bugs being ironed out (for example, Self-propelled artillery units used to close in, not ideal). To go into full details of the combat model would require a guide of its own.
Of course, besides just the combat, you need to pay attention to things like distance from headquarters, zones of control, supply, terrain and much more.
Summarising our thoughts about War in the East 2
What can we say except that there is nothing like it? This is the best of the best when it comes to turn-based gaming on the Eastern Front of WW2. And whilst we did mention that it’s not a beer and pretzels wargame, it does get a bit closer to that once you get past the steep learning curve. And whilst the complexity of the game is such that the AI is going to kick your ass on the first game, you are sure to likewise beat it easily by the time your tenth try on the 1941 campaign comes around. Once you understand how things work, the game becomes evermore interesting, or should we say mesmeric.
The game mechanics have been tested and perfected over the years, as in a way this game can trace its roots to War in the West, War in the East, War in Russia, and even as far as Second Front: Germany Turns East, published in 1990. It’s a meticulous labour of love that will be the defining wargame experience of its kind for years to come, or until Gary Grigsby comes out with War in Europe, and perhaps the grand product of World War 2 that covers the entire war.
Combining the best of boardgames and hexes with computerised bookkeeping and innovative wargaming mechanics, War in the East 2 is one of a kind. And you should seriously consider buying it.