Welcome, Comrade. The Second Great War is soon to begin and we’ve been busy purging our ranks of traitors. Are you loyal and capable enough to lead the Soviet Union into a new era or should we schedule you in for the firing squad now?
Developer: Starni Games
Publisher: Starni Games
Release date: 13 Nov, 2020
Strategic Mind is quickly becoming a rather hefty series of tactical wargames based around the events of World War II. Blitzkrieg had me pushing forward with the Wehrmacht back in August, while Wraith_Magus and Fnord found themselves battling a much wetter battle far to the east in The Pacific (feel free to take a peek at those reviews if you’re interested: Wraith_Magus, Fnord). Overall, our opinions seemed to match up fairly closely particularly when it came to entertaining gameplay and the interesting choices made more cutscenes and dialogue.
Here Come the Commies
First and foremost, the biggest change that sets Spectre of Communism apart from the previous entries in the series is that you’re now commanding the military forces of the Soviet Union. This spices the formula up for a couple of reasons. One, the Soviet Union tends to be rather neglected when it comes to World War II gaming. We see Germany, the United States, Great Britain, and so on as playable nations frequently, but unless a game offers you to play as all of the key players involved, the Soviets are left to be a challenge to overcome as opposed to a force that you can lead. Secondly, it’s exciting to see an entirely new roster of units being brought into the fold. By this point, I’m able to assume what a German armor unit’s strengths and weaknesses are as soon as I see the model in just about any wargame where authenticity is valued, but my knowledge of the Soviets is far more limited and it’s exciting to compare stats and be surprised when a new armament is made available. Don’t get me wrong, playing as Germany is a blast, but it’s always nice to see more options available.
Another perk that comes with seeing the war from the Soviet side is the opportunity to see more alternate history in action. I know that some of us are opposed to creative liberties being taken, but as long they reside primarily in the late-game after you’ve overcome the issues that originally shattered the faction’s path forward, I’m a supporter. Some of these are introduced early with secondary objectives that let you outdo history and gain some advantages that your historical brethren didn’t manage to lock in, though the results tend to only be a congratulatory conversation, some prestige, and a nice piece of equipment. A happy medium I’d say, as it lets you excel past what historically happened while at the same time keeping the relative historical integrity of the experience intact.
A final note of what really stood out to me was the early introduction of winter equipment for your troops. The Soviet Union fought plenty of chilly battles in their time and winter equipment is a piece of gear that you’re going to have to make use of, even if you hate seeing one of your units’ slots being used to maintain its capabilities as opposed to enhancing them. Frost winter combat now applies a significant reduction to a unit’s fighting capabilities, with the Winter War in Finland kicking it up a notch to nearly immobilizing those who aren’t equipped for it. It’s not an option, it’s a must, and you’ll find that winterizing the vast majority of your ground forces is the only way you can achieve victory when the weather turns against you.
Strategic Mind Is Strategic Mind
If you’ve read the previous reviews or even glanced at the store page, you have a pretty good idea of what the Strategic Mind games are. They’re similar in many ways to the popular Panzer Corps series with a few key differences that make the experiences unique in their own ways. Spectre of Communism hasn’t reinvented the wheel since Blitzkrieg, as a matter of fact, it seems that Starni Games has become particularly comfortable with their approach to a turn-based historical war game and has doubled down on it. Mechanically speaking, it feels almost exactly the same, with a few Soviet-inspired alterations to give it enough flavor to stand alone as its own title. Honestly, I’ve found myself to be okay with that.
Spectre of Communism continues the trend of having well-designed scenarios that match up with the challenges that were faced historically. Combat requires some serious thought and if you’re looking for a serious uphill battle, the higher difficulties should grant you that. I found myself strained by some of the scenarios and keeping your losses to a minimum is always at the forefront of your mind as each dead red is one that’s going to cost resources that are shared through the entire timeline of the campaign. However, if on the flip side you’re looking for a lighter experience, there’s a story mode of sorts that drastically reduces the strength of your enemies while giving you more rewards for your accomplishments. In other words, whether you’re already a grizzled war gamer or someone who just wants to have a more casual playthrough, you’re covered.
Historical Figures and Corny Voice Lines
If you were hoping to spot ol’ Uncle Joe, you’ve come to the right place. Comrade Stalin is ever-present, pushing your superiors and you to flawlessly complete your duties for the Soviet Union. You’ll even run into personalities like Rokossovsky and get to see some of his drama first-hand. That said, the same level of quality is prevalent here as it was previously. Dialogue often seems forced and unnatural, and if you haven’t already resigned yourself to accepting that it’s part of the experience overall, it may even be a bit jarring for your overall immersion. My suggestion is to see it as part of the game’s unique atmosphere overall. You may not fall in love with it, but as long as you can muscle through it, the details of the story are interesting enough and the gameplay mechanics that it’s attached to are worth your effort.
Strategic Mind: Spectre of Communism brings heavy competition to the genre, particularly when it comes to the very similar gameplay that it shares with Panzer Corps 2. While the series itself brings some innovations that will keep you hooked for some time, it seems clear that Starni Games has decided to basically re-release the same game with a new layer of paint on it every six months or so. The product itself is a good one, but a part of me often thinks that it would’ve been better to release these additional titles as hefty expansions, similar to the model that’s being used for Panzer Corps 2. That said, a thirty dollar price tag isn’t terrible for what’s on offer here, and there’s no question that you’ll get more bang for your buck than many similarly priced titles. Of course, waiting for a decent sale will cut down on that issue and you’ll get a solid tactical war game without breaking the bank.