Barbed wire and the machine gun. Together, these two inventions changed warfare, and history. Together, they will let you fight a war beyond Europe’s imagining – The Great War. This guide might help you think about the game differently.
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For thousands of years, the open field was the place of battle. Now, it is the slaughtering ground.
The invention of the machinegun was the first step in changing warfare forever. Death-dealing entering the industrialized age, with finely crafted machining allowing hundreds and hundreds of rounds to be fired every minute – so long as the factories can feed the guns. But men could still use smoke, fire artillery to force the gunners to duck down. They could charge in waves of infantry and overwhelm by force of numbers alone.
The second step was barbed wire. Forged of iron, drawn out, barbed, strung across battlefields to prevent soldiers from making headlong charges, slowing them down, funneling them into tightly controlled killing fields for the guns. Lain out under darkness, thickets rising so quickly they must have seemed like the thorny briars growing overnight to engulf a castle in a fairytale.
Never before could it be made so lethal to cross open ground so quickly. Together, these two inventions changed warfare, and history. Together, they will let you fight a war beyond Europe’s imagining – The Great War.
This guide will contain my observations from playing the game and tips about how to think about playing it. This guide will be thin on specific advice.
WTF Is a Trench, Bro?
A trench is, on the outside, a single long hole dug in the dirt. They have existed for as long as wars have, and have been part of siegecraft since the creation of the city wall. Within a trench, a soldier is protected. The only reliable way to kill him (other than the usage of massive-scale artillery and explosives of absolutely astonishing scale) is to enter the trench, and once in the trench, fight in close quarters. This has always been the case – which is no doubt why soldiers of the great war employed close combat weapons that seemed like something medieval.
A trench is not very wide. This means that, while a trench can contain two companies of infantry, only one company will be able to fire from it at a time. Further, with a second company of infantry in the trench, the trench will block all movement of other infantry through it.
This means that, if you have a line of trenches, and one trench has two infantry companies in it, a third company ordered to move along the line will be forced to leave the trenches and go over-ground. This is risky, even on defence, as outside of a trench, a soldier is vulnerable. While two infantry companies can attack in close combat at once, ONLY two companies can attack at once – meaning that if you attack a trench with four companies of infantry, the other two will hang out on top of the trench getting shot at by other defenders!
(NB: 2 companies of infantry in 1 trench act like a blockade for your troops! Only 2 can fit in at a time!)
A single line of trenches may seem to be a good defence, but what you have to remember is that someone will come and attack that trench, and when they do, if that single line falls, your defence will collapse.
Historically, trenches were layered – there was a frontal trench, for fighting, then a rear trench, where reserves could shoot from to support the front trench, a third trench behind that, perhaps, and so on. Like layers of an onion, or, like the many layered walls of a castle. Connect them with communications trenches – in this game, no one can stop in a communications trench, or fight in one. They’re just safe paths, and those paths will let you control how people move through your trench network.
In many ways, a trench network is very much like a castle. You can build redoubts – heavily fortified areas, which will be like the towers in your castle. You build ‘curtain walls’ around them, which you expect to have the enemy enter – it is very difficult to prevent a breach by a determined enemy, after all. That’s why castle walls had soldiers on top, because someone would come up with a ladder to attack.
However, since only two companies can enter each trench section, that means that the rest of the enemies will have to wait above, or cross over open ground to the next section of trench, letting you shoot them. Or letting you get shot at.
Communications trenches allow movement from trench to trench, which is very useful both on defence and attack. Defending, you have two options – before the enemy enters a trench, and after. Before they enter your trench network, you can shoot at them, kill them in the open. Barbed wire or other obstacles to slow them down increases the amount of time you have to do this – and in front of a machine gun, they will die in droves. After they enter your trench network it comes down purely to the might of your soldiers. In melee, they will use bayonets, clubs, grenades, anything they can – but so will the enemy. Meaning that if the enemy outnumbers you, you will be killed. However, you can create chokepoints.
If there is only one trench between your outer ‘wall’ of trenches and the inner ‘redoubt’, then only two companies of infantry can attack you through that trench at a time. The others all have to go over the top, where you can kill them. All you need to stop two companies of infantry in a trench… are two companies of infantry. And if you can keep throwing bodies into the grinder, there, so long as you kill plenty of infantry before they reach your trenches, more of the enemy will die than your men. Meaning they’ll send six companies of infantry, only get two into your trenches, and you only need to fight those two, while the rest of your soldiers keep firing.
Unfortunately, the enemy very likely have artillery.
Artillery! Yeah! I Love Killing Stuff with Artillery!
Except… that’s not what artillery is for.
Artillery, let me be the first to tell you, is not there to kill anyone.
A bayonet is there to kill someone, however a gun set up hundreds of yards behind the lines and firing horrific shells overhead cannot be used to kill anyone.
‘Rataphract’, you say, ‘what foolishness is this?’
Yes, an artillery shell CAN kill someone… but unless they’re out in the open, they’ll be hiding in a trench. Which means your artillery probably can’t hit them.
But it can force them to keep their heads down, because those shells explode and send shrapnel everywhere. A man with his head over the lip of the trench to fire will rapidly have his head taken off, which means that artillery is first and foremost for suppression.
When you assault a trench, use your artillery right up to the moment your soldiers arrive in order to prevent the enemy from peeking up and shooting at them. Light artillery is great for this, but it doesn’t do as much damage to spurs – spurs are the installations like machine guns and mortars, which are installed on the edges of your trenches. Heavy artillery is great, it can pound a trench and reduce the fighting strength of the men inside, sure, but it can also destroy machine guns, barbed wire, all sorts of things.
‘But isn’t artillery for killing people since you can damage things with it?’
No, it’s for controlling the battlefield. It’s for making sure the enemy don’t cross open ground, it’s for keeping their heads down, and it’s for destroying tanks.
It is a way for you to micromanage and react to events as they unfold, at very high speed, and it is expensive.
Every round of artillery fire costs 6 or 9 (noice) points of supply. Generally, a company of infantry will cost something similar.
For the cost of 1 artillery barrage, you can get a reinforcing company of infantry. And that one company of infantry can, properly positioned in trenches with overlapping fields of fire, kill many, many, many more soldiers than that single artillery barrage.
However, infantry can’t make soldiers in a distant trench duck down and hide – artillery can. Artillery can blow open a temporary hole in someone else’s defences. It can blunt a powerful attack. But it can’t kill the enemy outright, it’s much too expensive in supply to do that. Your soldiers, however, can use the support you give them with artillery and do incredible things.
(NB: Artillery barrages cost almost as much as a company of infantry – so having like 6 artillery pieces will burn through your supplies and achieve very little on its own, compared to what that infantry can do. Consider using fewer pieces of artillery in more careful, thought out ways.)
Gold, Guns, and Supplies
On the strategic level, there are three major resources.
Gold – which you use to buy things, but, VERY importantly, you also use to pay for replacement infantry. Any infantryman you lose in a battle forces you to spend gold to replace them. That means that losing a battle will eat into your gold supply.
You get additional gold each turn, and can use it how you like.
Supplies – which you use to do things, both in battles – reinforcements cost supply, artillery costs supply, etc – and in the strategic layer/battle setups. Initiating a battle costs supply, building trenches costs supplies, and so on. Meaning that if you run out of supplies, you can’t do anything, and all you can do is wait around.
The primary way of getting supplies is to purchase them with gold. (There are some battlefield victory awards that give you supplies, but, these will almost never cover the cost of a battle)
You can access some of your global supplies in a battle by building supply depots on the strategy layer.
Guns – Meaning… corps of infantry, which carry guns. Tanks, which carry guns. Aircraft, which carry guns, and siege artillery, which is a gun.
There are various events that will get you more companies of infantry, but anything else, you have to buy with gold. Each company will provide a certain baseline amount of supply, which can literally mean turning the tide of battle. While you can only have 30 companies at a time in a battle, if you bring 30 corps, you’ll have a very high amount of supplies with which to send in reinforcements and build trenches.
(NB – Strategy layer, a Corps of infantry/infantry corps contains multiple companies of infantry – also, usually, artillery pieces of the battle layer. Each corps also provide supplies in battle.)
When your men die on the battlefield, the corps remains in place – gold is spent to send replacement soldiers from outside the theatre of war automatically. So you CANNOT run out of infantry in the metagame.
When choosing what to spend your gold on, remember, you need gold to replace lost troops. You need gold to buy supplies. You need supplies to win battles.
Try to keep as much as you think you’ll need to fight off the enemy’s attacks during their turn.
If you’re going to lose a battle, consider conceding. You’ll only lose national will, which is… what you use to win the game. But you’ll keep your gold and supplies, which could be much more important over the next few months than maybe losing the war in two years.
If you don’t think you’re going to succeed, don’t do it. If you don’t think you have enough soldiers to hold part of the battlefield… don’t. If you don’t think you have enough soldiers to attack that trench network… don’t. If you don’t think you have enough artillery to get through… don’t. This is a game won in inches. If you can take one point on a battle map, but not any of the others, don’t stretch yourself to do so. If you’re facing down an overwhelming enemy, don’t defend the entire frontline to the last – set yourself up to defend a smaller portion of the map that you can defend better, and give up on the rest. Even if you have an infinite supply of infantry, you shouldn’t send these men to needless deaths. (Because that costs gold and supplies you could be using better elsewhere.)
You only get 30 units in the battle at a time, but you can put up as many machine guns and mortars and things like that as you like. But keep in mind, with only 30 units to cover your trench network, if it’s big? You can’t have soldiers in every trench. Which means that you don’t NEED to hold your whole trench network at once – just the chokepoints, so you can force the enemy to either fight you melee or go over the top.
Remember that putting two companies of men in one firing trench means NONE of your other units will be able to get by, the trench will be too tightly packed. This is why you should consider avoiding chokepoints and having plenty of communications trenches – that way your troops can get anywhere you want even if you’ve got doubled companies everywhere. However, two companies in one trench will both take damage from artillery fire even though only one company can shoot at the enemy at a time. So, consider having ‘dead ends’ near the front line, where you can put doubled companies as reinforcements to move up when you need them, or a ‘melee’ trench where you have doubled companies specifically to force the enemy to fight you in melee.
I spend a lot of time in this guide talking about defence. You can flip it around and use that to guide how you’ll attack, but, honestly? A strong defence is a method of attack in this context. If the enemy can’t break through your trench network, that gives you as much time as you want to throw artillery or tanks or whatever at the enemy, and you can afford to wait. Plus, you can build yourself supply depots and field hospitals and maybe do an attack once in awhile, while mostly just defending your cool place. Blitzkriegs are a 1930s/1940s thing, first someone has to figure out tank warfare, and the tank got invented like, literally yesterday. Don’t sweat it. Defend first, attack later.
If you don’t understand how to do something… watch the AI do it. Attack? Wait for it to attack you, then do more or less what it did. Defend? Throw troops at it the way it did to you, and watch, carefully, how they all die. You will learn a surprising amount.
A machine gun is 30 supply. I’m not sure on the exact numbers, but it will take multiple artillery barrages to destroy your machine gun, so don’t worry too much about losing them, firstly. Secondly, consider putting them way, way behind your lines. Put down a chokepoint, to force the enemy to melee fight you in a trench or go over ground, and cover that chokepoint with your machine gun from far enough back that the enemy artillery either won’t get it or won’t see it until it’s too late. Look at where the AI puts down machine guns – not usually on the front line directly. Probably this is why.
Observation balloons let you see a whole lot. And the AI uses them, regularly. Which means it can probably see you, so take out their balloons.
Trenchfoot is mainly caused by wet, cold feet. Ensure you always have dry socks, and consider wearing two pairs – a thin cotton pair with a thicker woollen pair over them. Use healthy amounts of foot powder, and patch any leaks in your boots as soon as possible.
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