Century of Warfare (CoW) is the latest iteration of the The Operational Art of War series, widely considered the most comprehensive wargaming system ever created for the computer. CoW combines the original TOAW, TOAWII and their expansion packs in a single game. The attendant scenarios (with several exceptions) are updated to the current version of the game engine. Additionally, CoW includes a variety of World War I (and pre-WWI) scenarios, rounding out the great conflicts of the Twentieth Century, hence the name.
For those of you unfamiliar with the TOAW series, it’s the modern version of the traditional board wargame, with the added complexity that a computer allows. The name of the game is realism. While it is not perfect, it is very good. The game engine is flexible, efficiently handling scenarios pitting brigades against brigades or armies against armies. Maps are extremely variable, both in scale and total size, and are complemented by the extensive library of terrain types. Individual units are rated for proficiency, readiness and supply, among other things, while equipment is modeled down to the individual squad, vehicle, gun, etc. The combat engine has improved with every iteration of the game, ironing out a few early bugs that resulted in the occasional wildly unrealistic result.
Despite the strong combat engine, logistics is the real name of the game in CoW, just as it is in real warfare. If you don’t pay attention to supply, you will rapidly find your units degraded to hordes of semi-trained barbarians. It is frequently advisable not to move your units their full movement allowance – a out-of-supply unit 50km deep in the enemy rear is generally of far less utility than a well-supplied one 10km deep. If nothing else, the logistics engine of CoW forces a player to justify every move.
CoW allows multiple players, either via email or old-fashioned hot seat. In addition, the programmed opponent (PO), as the artificial intelligence opponent is called, is very well designed, relying on a combination of moves/strategies pre-programmed and an effective decision tree. The PO was somewhat predictable in earlier iterations of the system, but has gotten consistently better with each release. One advantage the PO has is that it is able to calculate precisely the potential effects of numerous moves, a process which would be extremely time consuming for a human. The net effect is that the PO is quite proficient at finding weaknesses in your lines. I have been surprised by this on many occasions, particularly during the exploitation phase of an offensive, where my leading units have been slapped down by the PO’s reserves.
The scenarios are the heart of this game. The selection is extremely varied, and generally of good quality. With the addition of the WWI scenarios, the twentieth century is covered. Additionally, there are a number of hypothetical scenarios that take place in the first several decades of the Twenty First century. Whatever genre you prefer, there are likely to be multiple scenarios over varying scales. The scenarios range in size from quick one-session games, such as "Malta" and "Crete", to monsters that could take weeks or months (of which there are a number). CoW includes a complete scenario builder in the package that allows you to create scenarios from scratch or edit existing ones.
There are a few deficiencies in the package, however. Several of the scenarios carried over from the previous versions are real duds. A good example of this is "Germany ’84," whose order of battle seems to have been made up out of thin air. What is particularly vexing is that TheGamer.Net has several scenarios covering the same subject that are remarkable for their accuracy and playability. Additionally, the gentlemen at Talonsoft apparently failed to convert the scenarios ported over from Flashpoint: Kosovo to CoW standards. The result? You can play them, but you can’t reload saved games. I discovered this, to my horror, after failing to reload a "Seoul 2000" save that I was already about six hours into. Talonsoft is aware of the problem, and a patch is to be made available shortly.
If you have never purchased any of the TOAW series, CoW is an outstanding bargain. If you already own one or more of the original games, consider the full set. The addition of the new scenarios, the standardization of the system and the fact that it all can be played off a single CD make this game well worth the price.