George Santayana, the Spanish-American writer, famously said, "Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it." We think he was probably describing the gameplay concept behind developer Muzzy Lane's Making History: The Calm & The Storm, the latest PC descendent in a long, proud line of turn-based strategy games focused on global domination in World War II.
You play as one of eight countries (Japan, Germany, England, U.S., U.S.S.R., China, France, or Italy) during history's most over-analyzed war in an effort to nab the most World Power Points in one of three pre-selected victory conditions: Alliance victory (the alliance with the most World Power Points wins), Ideology victory (the top scoring ideology wins), and National victory (the highest-scoring nation wins).
We loved having the option to select alternate victory conditions per scenario because it changed how we approached each game and added replayability. The game offers only five scenarios, each covering a distinct chapter of WWII, but in all fairness each is hundreds of turns long so it all balances out. Though 8-player multi-player is available, it's hard to imagine it becoming wildly popular since the normal single-player game requires a pretty hefty time commitment, let alone adding seven more people to the mix. Unfortunately, play-by-email (PBEM) isn't offered at all.
Making History is primarily focused on the broad canvas of national decision-making, and in this regard it feels very much like any of the classic world or city-building games but with a bit more depth. Economic policy decisions involve the good-natured distribution of foreign aid to allies and trade embargos for your foes (take that Germany and Japan). If need be, you can manhandle your economy back onto track, via World Trade Markets and infrastructure improvements.
Diplomatic options are fairly robust, granting your inner Churchill the ability to demand peace concessions or a change in government, and in a pleasant surprise, seem to be genuinely affected by gameplay strategy. For example, while playing as China, we initially sought a British alliance, but the U.K. denied our request. Undaunted, we began offering them sizeable aid packages while buying goods from them. Eventually they relented and offered us a place in their alliance. Rewarding moments like this give you that all-important feeling that your decisions truly carry weight, and Making History nails that perfectly. Should you choose a "military solution" over diplomacy, the game offers a surprisingly effective combat engine that resolves battles fairly and, for the most part, accurately.
Muzzy Lane could have skimped on the graphics, in light of the large number of required units on-screen, but overall they've done a good job of detailing important objects attractively, even if this doesn't look as hot as a Total War game. Sound is unexceptional though the background music is quite pleasant and never gets tiring. One important aspect in these types of long-haul games is the user-interface (UI) and it does precisely what it's supposed to do - offers concise information in a very usable format. The only genuine gripe we could muster about Making History is that the game manual isn't as helpful as it should be; as things currently stand, you'll find yourself confused by cause and effect from time to time. After a bit of digging within the in-game help system, you'll usually find your answers but it could have been easier and better explained from the outset.
Turn-based strategy games have become something of a relic in today's real-time world, but Making History is the rare exception that has learned from history and hasn't repeated its mistakes. It admirably bridges the gap between deep simulation and enjoyable "just one more turn" gameplay and would be a worthy addition to any strategy fan's game collection.