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Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945

Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945

Developer: 2by3Games
Publisher: Matrix Games
Release Date: 12/7/2010

Review written by Kai Isaksen


In the 1990’s I bought Gary Grigsby’s War in Russia, and though it had its limitations in terms of graphics, I kept playing it up till now. With the recent release of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East from 2by3Games, that era might very well come to an end.

Installing the game I must admit I expected something like an updated version of the old classic. Let me say this immediately; War in the East is so much more!
War in the East is what classical board gamers would call a monster game; With over 2000 counters to represent the forces of the largest military operation in history; Operation Barbaraossa, as well as 25,000+ hexes to move them around on, you have the recipe for hours of gaming fun for the armchair general. At the outset, a game this size and with such level of detail, would seem daunting for anyone but the most ardent strategy gamer. This is where the magic of modern computer technology comes in, and in my opinion, 2by3Games has managed to strike the right balance between details and playability, to attract also the more casual strategy gamer.

In general it pays off to have some historical background knowledge of the conflict, as the historical events will, at least to a certain extent dictate your strategic options in the game. For instance, as the German player, you know that you need to advance as far as possible into Russia and reach good defensible terrain before the mud season and winter starts, as there will be an inevitable Russian counter offensive coming with the first snow.

Installation and contents

The game installed easily with no issues, and it comes with a detailed 400+ page manual on the disc that explains in detail all aspects of the game.

Being a fairly experienced gamer, I flipped through the manual to familiarize myself with the mechanics, but decided to quickly dive right into the game play, and learn by doing. The game includes one small tutorial scenario, to ease you into the game mechanics, and I found it informative and useful to play, although I would perhaps have wished for a couple of more scenarios with expanded map and more units for inexperienced players. Using the tutorial provided in the manual gets tedious, as you need to play the game and read the manual at the same time – an in-game tutorial scenario would have been helpful.

One note though; it was not immediately obvious how to start the game once on had reached the setup screen; and only after a good quarter of an hour did I discover that it is not enough to just choose which scenario you want to play; you also need to load the scenario into the game engine. Not a big nuisance, and I probably would have found it quicker had I bothered to read the manual carefully, but I can’t help but feel some instructions on the screen would also have been helpful.

Basic game mechanics

I mentioned hexes (hexagons) and counters, and that is the first thing one notices when the scenario is loaded and the screen filled up with a map of the Eastern Front and all the units that fought (or could have fought) in the campaign.

The game is traditional board game style with a map with a superimposed hexagon grid on top to regulate movement and placement of units. You can choose to “switch off” the gridlines, so that you only look at a plain map, but the hexes are still there to regulate your movement and combat. The hexes are about 10 miles across and each game turn lasts about 1 week of simulated game time. Zooming functions on the map allows you to easily get the necessary overview of the entire front, at the same time it allows you to dive right down into the individual tactical battle. The map is easy to read and understand and gives a good idea of the terrain faced by the combatants on the eastern front.

Most game actions are performed directly from the main screen. Given the turn based nature of the game (IGOUGO) you have the freedom to take all the time you need each turn – and you need it! With over 2000 counters to push around in the main scenario, it took me over half an hour just to move all the counters, and a turn could easily take an hour or even longer.

Units are counters with standard NATO symbols (a box with a cross inside for infantry etc) may be strange for some gamers used to playing games that use sprites – little soldiers or tanks – but for the more experienced gamer it gives a very good overview and a lot of information readily available. The counters have easily identifiable information with combat strength and movement points, as well as type of unit and size.

Units are divisions (or even regiments if you break them down), that can be grouped into Corps, Armies and Army Groups (for the German side; Fronts for the Soviet side). Units represent forces from all the different countries that fought on the Eastern Front, as well as the German you also find the Finns, Rumanians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Italians and even a Spanish unit (The Blue Division). The level of detail is amazing and the orders of battle must be some of the most comprehensive I have seen in a game of this type.

To make it easier to understand and use the order of battle, units are color coded to indicate which corps or army they belong to. This makes it easier to direct operations, as units in general should operate close to their parent formation HQ’s to ensure they receive the necessary supply, support and command.

Each unit can be examined in more detail by clicking on it, and examining the various constituent parts down to a level where you can look at every single piece of equipment in the unit (how many tanks of each type, how many infantry squads, how many machine guns etc). I am sure some gamers like to know how many gallons of fuel his panzer division has, or how many rounds of ammunition his infantry division has left but for me this is not the primary information I am looking for – although it is good to know it is there if I do find that I need it at some stage.

Now, the good thing about this game is that it allows you to go into this level of detail, but you do not have to in order to play and enjoy the game. If you want, you can manage in detail even the production of your country and decide the size of the sprockets for the threads of your tanks, but luckily you can also decide to let the computer automatically manage most of these decisions – and for most players I would advice to leave this to the “experts” provided by the game.

The main screen presents you with a lot of information, and in addition to the map area that shows the counters and the situation in the field, you also have easy access to detailed information about your units, to assign missions and plan future attacks and operations.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming amount of information to consider, the presentation is simply fantastic and easy to use, and makes planning and conduction of operations a fairly easy task. One major aspect of this is the smart cursor which automatically suggests “legal” actions you may perform when you move the cursor over a unit or area. For instance, if you want to attack a Soviet unit, you click on your attacking unit to select it, move the cursor over the unit to be attacked, and selects the type of attack you wish to conduct. As in war in Russia you have a choice of different types of attack (e.g. overrun, artillery bombardment etc) and the smart cursor will list your options when you need it. Simple and easy, no need to remember which options you have, difficult keyboard combinations or other “gamey” mechanics we remember from earlier times.

The mouse driven interface is very clean and easy to use, and for the most part logical. Not only the obvious tasks of moving units and attacking other units, but also vital tasks like supplying units, reinforcing them, repairing railroads etc are self explanatory and made easy by the smart cursor system employed in the game. In short, the game developers have focused on making the information you need at any point in time readily available in front of you, while more “nice to know” information is available, but with an extra mouse click. This makes the entire game system very comfortable to play and what seemed to be a daunting task to get to know the game, is actually just a pleasant afternoon session.

The game offers a good mix of scenarios, spanning the entire conflict 1941-1945. You can choose to manage the whole Operation Barbarossa or focus on pieces of it, for instance the drive on Leningrad, covering the operations of Army Group North. What I like especially is that the game also offers good offensive scenarios for the Soviets; something often found lacking in these types of war games. This also increases the playability and replay value of the game considerably.

Game play tends to follow historical timelines, and the player is well advised to keep in mind the historical lessons learned by either side. I found no obvious historical problems or errors, and the scale of the game is realistic in terms of how many units can be stacked into one location.

There are of course things in the interface that are not perfect, I found it generally hard to find out how many air points I had available and also some other minor details required extensive reading of the manual to understand. However, this was just a minor nuisance and did not take anything away from the gaming experience. In fact, the entire air warfare system is the only thing I can find in the game that I would call slightly confusing, it is not very difficult once you get the hang of it, but it is not quite as readily intuitive as other game functions and requires some trial and error before you master it. Put in a good half hour of effort, supported by the game manual and you have mastered it. This is probably the area where the game should be changed and simplified if there is a 2.0 in the making.

Summary and conclusion

You take on the role as the supreme commander of the entire front, and so will issue orders to all combat and support units on the map. If you want you can delegate responsibility to individual commanders in the field, in that you designate an objective for a Corps or Army, and the commander will then utilize his resources in the best way to try and reach that objective. This allows you to develop your own style of play; either focus on the big lines, draw up the big plans and let your corps/division commanders execute your plans to the best of their ability, or get your hands dirty and direct the attacks yourself from the front line. You can choose to be a logistical genius and focus on production and supply of your units, or you can be the air general, commanding swarms of Stukas onto the unsuspecting Soviets. The choice is yours in Gary Grigsby’s War in the East!

In my opinion the game is excellent for anyone interested in WW2 in general, and Operation Barbarossa specifically. With the combination of detail and playability I believe 2By3Games has created an excellent war game that should be attractive to both the experienced war gamer and the more casual gamer looking for a challenge.

Written by Kai Isaksen for

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