Hearts of Iron IV is the fourth and currently latest in a series of developments that have culminated in what could reasonably be classed as a wargame for computer gamers. But is it a wargame?
The series has grown along with the capabilities of computer gaming under the expert guidance of the team at Paradox Interactive.
Modern wargaming has developed out of Kreigspeil developed by the Prussian military in early part of the 19th Century. Since then wargaming has become 'mainstream' developing into gaming land, sea & air warfare on the tabletop and as a board game (from the simple 'Risk' that covers the more 'gamey' end of the hobby to true historical and complex wargame rules and boardgames that cover the military simulation end of the market. We should of course include two genres that have developed over the last 50 or so years - fantasy & science fiction.
Historical wargaming creates 'what ifs' by its very nature and so does Hearts of Iron (IV). The game still receives development updates on a regular basis as a result of player feedback. Much of these upgrades have assisted the players choose viable what ifs (who wants to fight an exact copy of the prelude to and the whole of WW2?).
Board wargames had and have attempted (and sometimes succeeded pretty well) to do what HOI does. Probably the first successful attempt was Hitler's War (a 2 - 3 player no longer in print - available on Vassal) which covered research & development as well as combat on land, sea & air in the Western hemisphere (but not the East).
The next attempt and one that has developed over the the last twenty years is EastFront 2 by Columbia Games (EastFront - MasterFront - EuroFront - EuroFront 2). This game adds in Diplomacy & Politics at expense of Research & Development, Air & Sea Power (though all are handled abstractly in the game) and it is a big, big game. This game is technically two player though the size of the game would allow 3 and perhaps 4-player. Because of its origin (the excellent EastFront) the game reflects land combat simply and effectively at Corps & Army levels.
Both games have a certain amount of fog-of-war which certainly is a valuable aspect of both games.
Columbia Games have also published two other games that can be linked to fight all of WW2 and they are Pacific Victory (recently re-released) and Victory in Europe. These are more akin to Hitler's War, but still have influences and perhaps improvements over EuroFront 2 in certain areas.
So where does Hearts of Iron IV differ.... well basically it makes it bigger yet more manageable. Technology & military doctrine are well-handled and players have many options (not only in which country they play but also in the path that that country will take as the big players inevitably line up for a re-fight).
Sure the game is multi-player but not face-to-face and for the 'traditionalists' (including myself) it does lose something due to the lack of face-to-face contact & the player interaction that goes with it - but it does reach the criteria for a wargame and some.
From a playability issue as an electronic game it can be played, saved, and put away. It is available through Steam and can operate on Windows & Linux. If you play the small guy you can make a difference, often not and occasionally too much. But that is the joy of gaming.... with traditional games it is on the roll of a die or two....
Author: Keith Charnley, Manx Gaming Solutions
Kreigspeil: "a form of war game in which symbols representing military formations are moved about on maps"