TOAW IV Revisited

From The Strategy Gamer

10/22/18 – RTFM has been spouted. I’ve RTFM. Am returning after reading some 3rd party guides that seem to be more helpful. My argument still stands, but I really want to like this game.

It started in Finland. June 29th 1941. A narrow peninsula was held by Russian troops threatening to drive on Helsinki. The scenario was for Finland to recapture what was lost during the Winter War. The game, The Operational Art of War IV.

To my east is a string of units from the Gulf of Finland all the way to the arctic ocean. But this little thorn… I decide to start there. It doesn’t go well.

TOAWIV is a hex-and-counter multi-theater wargaming simulation base. Upon it you can layer any conflict from pre-ww1 all the way up today. It’s a fairly lofty goal that aims for what CMANO does in the air-sea theater but also adding land units.

The odd part is the hybrid time system. It is turn based. But it’s kind of not. That distinction separates the game from true turn based titles like Panzer Campaigns or War in the West. However it’s not really real time like Command Ops, Combat Mission or CMANO.

TOAWIV has been available on Matrix for awhile and has a really robust community from previous versions. I had never played those previous versions and I think this game aims to address TOAW3 players and not expand for new players.

Back in Finland element of the Finnish Army are preparing an offensive. According to my yellow bar I have the full 10 combat turns. And this is where things get weird.

So I had to move a unit into position. Technically it arrived at some point after the start of the turn. When I want to use that specific unit in an attack, it sets back the start point for the other units. So it’s entirely possible I can move a unit, then attack, and the entire turn is done without me moving a single one of my other 100 or so units on the Soviet front.

This becomes really interesting in the terms of an encirclement. You may move a unit its full distance to encircle a hostile, then your attacking forces annihilate the unit. But, that encircling unit isn’t there at round 1, he arrived in round 8, so instead your attacking unit actually attacked at the end of the turn.

The finns plan a fairly massive attack against the Soviet positions on the isthmus. 

To make it clear I haven’t attacked with any of the other units on the map, nor have they moved.

I resolve the attack and… my turn ends. If I knew this was going to happen it’d be one thing. But according to my little yellow boxes above I was only using 20% of my turn? What gives?

And that’s where the game breaks down. The time management is obscured in such a way that the game becomes opaque. Will my turn end? Can I do another combat? What about the rest of the border? 

I totally understand the argument of a turn being a week, and units moving occupy a certain portion of that time, but man, this is just a shitty way of doing it. I want to like this game, alot! 

Our combat results show that it began on round 3 and took 8 rounds, ending my 10 round turn. Even if I could have dug through some menu or tip to find that info, it’s poor game design.

I’ve said it time and time again, turn based is a throwback to the days of cardboard games. This is fine, but instead of using this back asswards time pulse system, why not just make it real time? It’s a hybrid bastard right now and would strongly benefit from a rework closer to Command Ops. Keep the hexes, keep everything, but kill this abomination of a time management system. 

Unless you’re a devotee of the game, a turbo-grog who wants to try something new, or that guy who really wants to play/make some obscure scenario, this game is a pass.

I had a really hard time writing this, and I tried other scenarios ranging from modern to naval (terrible) and WW1, thinking it might do better at trench warfare. But in all cases I found it to be disappointing and frustrating all the while seeming like it could be good. Could be. 

It wants to be a good game. There’s other clunkiness that I’m willing to overlook. The music-options interface is dumb. The icon layout is a throwback to when no one had large monitors. The inability to exit during an enemy turn. The naval system should just be ignored.

During the next turn the Soviets repel my units and break free from the peninsula. And, much like my time with TOAWIV, Finland is done.

Hopefully someone comes up with a similar game that fixes the issues here. If Atomic Games could damn well do it 20 years ago with a WEGO system, I’d think someone could do it today.

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