Headquarters: World War II Takes Its Shot at Tactical Wargaming

Headquarters: World War II
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Developer Starni Games have already made quite a mark on wargaming. Their Strategic Mind series of titles give armchair commanders a chance to strategically turn the tide in historical battles and warfare, and it earned high marks in previous GiN reviews. Now they are moving down to the tactical level for a more intimate look at combat in their new Headquarters: World War II game, which is published by Slitherine and available right now on Steam. Headquarters: World War II offers all of the strategic depth that gamers have come to expect from Starni, but with many modern graphical and audio flourishes that make tactical wargaming so fun to play.

The World War II genre has always been a fascinating playground for video games and its popularity remains extremely high. However, most of the WWII titles that we get these days fall into a few categories such as real time strategy with the Company of Heroes series, shooters like Call of Duty or grand strategy titles that have you managing an entire country from the warfare to the economic side of things. As such, there is a lot of room for tactical combat games, which used to be really popular back in the days of the Close Combat series. There are some modern, tactical World War II titles out there. We recently reviewed a really good one called Second Front from MicroProse. But most modern tactical titles really lean into the tactics quite a bit to the point where it almost becomes a military training simulation. By contrast, Headquarters: World War II has that level of detail, but also plenty of special effects that really bump up the fun levels quite a bit.

Headquarters: World War II takes place in the European theater of operations. In a series of campaign missions or skirmishes, players can fight as the United States, the UK or Germany. Given that many of the scenarios cover D-Day and the early parts of the European campaign, there is a lot of room for expansion by going deeper into the war in Europe or out to other theaters.

Combat in Headquarters: World War II is turn-based and the developers smartly separated movement points from combat actions. That means that you can have a tank break cover, take a shot or two and then back down over a hill or into a more protected area, which at least for the United States, was a well-practiced tank doctrine at the time. Units receiving fire also can react to it and counterattack under certain circumstances. For vehicles, the attacker needs to be within a defender’s firing arc (infantry can counterattack in all directions), and the unit needs to have reaction points left to take a counter shot. Reaction points are shared with the attack points pool, so if a unit spent all of their attacks in a turn, they may not have any reaction left to counterattack.

A lot of emphasis in Headquarters: World War II has been placed on the vehicles and units. Units move appropriately depending on their type, so tanks blaze along quickly on roads but only infantry can walk through heavy woods or into buildings. Each unit also has realistic armor points which makes position and facing critical, especially for vehicles. Tanks normally have tough front armor that can sometimes withstand at least a couple shots from other tanks or field guns, while they are much more vulnerable from the sides or especially the back. If you can get behind a vehicle with an anti-tank weapon, you will likely be able to kill it in a single shot. As such, skilled players will save at least a few of their movement points each time in order to face their vehicles in the most likely direction an enemy could approach during their next turn.

Note that Headquarters: World War II uses a square grid pattern for the battlefield, as opposed to a hex map like in Starni’s Strategic Mind series. While this limits movement options somewhat, it does make it much easier to set your facing, and to figure out exactly where (and what side) a shot against a vehicle or structure will hit. Structures like houses also fit much more easily into a grid pattern, so strategically attacking them is a little bit easier to plan out.

One of the coolest features of Headquarters: World War II is that you get a cinematic view of the action every time any kind of action takes place, not unlike a Hollywood movie. This could be something simple like telling an APC to move down the road and seeing a cutscene of it bumping along through a muddy lane in the French backcountry. Or a cutscene could trigger when a tank fires an armor-piercing shell at another vehicle, whereupon players get to watch the projectile streak into its target and maybe blow it to bits in a blossom of smoke and fire. The sound supports those cinematic scenes as well. You can really hear the power of a tank firing on an opponent at close range.

Headquarters: World War II’s world is wonderfully rendered too, and almost everything is destructible. If the enemy is hiding in a house and you don’t feel like assaulting it and risking your infantry or commandos, you can simply lob artillery into the makeshift strongpoint or blast it with high explosive rounds. The house will slowly degrade until it eventually crumbles into rubble under your fire, taking those enemy units inside with it if they don’t beat a hasty retreat out the back door.

As strategic as the gameplay is, several allowances for more fun and exciting gameplay have been made. For example, when one of your tanks or APCs gets hit, you can lose a crew member even if the vehicle is still operational. However, that degrades the efficiency of the vehicle as the commander has to serve as the driver or the loader jumps up to act as a gunner. That is bad for that vehicle, but players have commander powers which can be employed to help out. By using one of those powers, you can immediately replace fallen crew members or restore lost morale. Of course, there is no way that you are actually teleporting new crew members into place, but Headquarters: World War II allows you to do that for the sake of smoother and faster play.

Units also level up and become more powerful over time, which is especially helpful when playing in one of the campaigns because it will make them more accurate and have higher morale during future engagements.

For all of its amazing advantages, there are also a few shortcomings with Headquarters: World War II. The biggest one is that the enemy AI is, sadly, not too smart. They seem to, especially in the campaign missions, have pre-programmed ideas about what to do and how to react to things, and simply turtle up when confronted with something outside of that programming. For example, if you have artillery set up in a protected position, you can then sneak scouts or even infantry forward through cover to spot enemy vehicles and strongpoints. Once spotted, you can reign artillery down on them, and the enemy won’t generally react. They will just sit there and, I guess, hope that you stop shelling them. I would think that they would try to reposition, uncover the spotters or anything really, but that seems to be an Achillies heel for the AI. As such, artillery is kind of over-powered in Headquarters: World War II. Especially once you learn how to use it effectively, it can win almost every battle for you or at least give you an incredible advantage.

Playing Headquarters: World War II brought back great memories of the heady days when the Close Combat series of tactical wargames were king. The combination of deep tactical, turn-based gameplay combined with those amazing cinematic moments makes Headquarters: World War II a must play title for any armchair general who enjoys the highly tactical side of wargaming.

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