It’s been a long time since I played wargames. Of course, in the 1990s, when wargames seemed to be the rage, I also paid due attention to Panzer General (1994), Allied General (1995), and Fantasy General (1996), Battleground: Bulge-Ardennes (1995), and Close Combat (1995), but later I hardly played games of this genre. Wargames have hardly evolved, especially in terms of graphics, and there have always been more interesting and spectacular games, the time has come for 3D, shooters and RTS. But for Headquarters: World War II, I made an exception. Firstly, it is a Ukrainian game, and secondly, it looks really modern for a wargame.

Гра Headquarters: World War II
Genre wargame
Platforms Windows
Languages English, Ukrainian
Developer Starni Games
Publisher Slitherine Software


Everybody is wargaming

It just so happens that wargames are popular in Ukraine, especially among older gamers. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the 1990s, when wargames were one of the first games to reach our country, or perhaps it’s a love of military history and complex games, but it happened.

Even now, Ukraine is developing wargames, and they’re not bad. The Ukrainian-Swedish Game Labs prefers the American Revolution and ships. Kharkiv’s Graviteam, which was created in the early 2000s, focuses on the events of World War II in Ukraine, although for Graviteam Tactics: Mius-Front also has DLC about the armed conflicts of the 1960s and 1980s. Kyiv-based Starni Games is known for its Strategic Mind series of games, which includes five projects. The last of them, Strategic Mind: Spirit of Liberty, was released in August 2023 and is dedicated to the Finnish people’s struggle for independence, and this game has many parallels with the events of the current Russian-Ukrainian war.

Strategic Mind: Spirit of Liberty was developed in parallel with Headquarters: World War II, so the process was a bit delayed. The game mechanics of the Strategic Mind series are used by Starni Games designers in Headquarters: World War II, but here they are adapted from the strategic to the tactical level.


XCOM with tanks

That is, while in Strategic Mind you control brigades, regiments, divisions, and ships, in Headquarters you control individual units and tanks. So the operations here are not the whole Normandy landing in one mission, but the capture of individual towns, ports, and positions.

Accordingly, only infantry, tanks, and artillery are under your direct command, while aviation and artillery support from fleet ships can only be ordered and even then in very limited quantities. In addition, at the tactical level, there is no point in implementing a supply system, naval hubs, and logistics hubs, as battles here last for a few hours and it is believed that there is enough ammunition and fuel.

For a person not very familiar with the wargame genre, the easiest way to describe Headquarters: World War II as XCOM with tanks. The units operate in urban environments, the maps are small, and the fog of war, fortifications, ambushes, and return fire play a very important role in the game. Unlike the units in Strategic Mind, armored vehicles here have different frontal, side, and rear armor, which affects penetration. There’s no point in shooting tanks with machine guns, but throwing grenades at them from close range is just fine.

Intelligence plays a very important role. In Headquarters, you don’t have to put your troops in surveillance mode, they do it automatically at the end of the turn, so the first one to get into the area of responsibility of a hidden enemy unit is guaranteed to “rake it in”. And given the dense buildings, numerous landings, and the use of smoke, things get even more interesting.

The traditional wargame system of stones, scissors, and paper certainly works here, as does the consideration of firing and observation zones, elevations, and so on. And you have to take into account that a well-designed anti-tank gun can shoot through almost half the map.


They meet you by your clothes

As we mentioned at the beginning, the wargame genre hasn’t evolved much since the 1990s, especially when it comes to graphics in turn-based wargames of this kind. Some wargames still use 2D graphics and conventional unit markings on a topographic map. Well, Headquarters: World War II is a clear step forward. Although the developers at Starni Games have used the Unreal Engine in their previous projects, this is really a new level.

Full 3D, realistic models of vehicles and units, good animation, attention to detail. For example, when a cinematic shot is repeated, you can see a tank turning its turret, the focus shifts to the target, allowing you to see the surrounding streets, houses, etc. If the cameras are lowered to maximum zoom and the interface is turned off, you can see tables in French coffee shops with bottles on them, shop signs, propaganda posters on the walls, laundry drying on ropes in the yards, sacks of potatoes, jugs and gardening supplies. This is the level of some Company of Heroes 3 and World of Tanks, and it’s actually very nice.

At the same time, if you raise the camera up, you will have an almost familiar tactical view, which is, of course, more convenient for managing units.


Normandy again

Operation Overlord, the landing of the Anti-Hitler Coalition troops in Normandy, is the most complex, effective, and famous operation in the history of wars, so it’s no surprise that Headquarters: World War II, which seems to be conceived as the first game in a new series, the authors chose this operation.

On the one hand, it’s good and should boost sales, but on the other hand… well, we’re all a little tired of Normandy, which has been written, filmed and created in many works, including games. Even Starni Games’ own game, Strategic Mind: Fight for Freedom, begins with the landing in Normandy, of course, with strategic management.

In Headquarters: World War II has three campaigns, for the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Each has 9 missions, each lasting about an hour. The United States operates mainly with tanks, the United Kingdom relies on infantry and commandos, and the missions of the German campaign have the opposite goals to some of the US and British missions and take place on the same maps. Unlike the Strategic Mind series, there are no alternative campaigns.

As in Strategic Mind, in this game you also have troops that will go through the entire campaign with you, who gain experience, improvements, to which heroes with their own properties can be attached. In addition, you can add vehicles to your infantry, including quite useful armored personnel carriers, or even abandon one unit in favor of another by “buying” it for victory points.

Of course, the game also has multiplayer, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t comment on it.


War does not change

Headquarters: World War II is a good game. Unlike other wargames, it’s easy enough to learn, but challenging enough to enjoy winning. It once again demonstrates that fighting in cities is a nightmare for those who storm; that attacking fortified positions without artillery preparation, air support, and thorough reconnaissance is suicide; that there is no war without losses. And that in real life, unlike in the game, there are no Save/Load buttons and no instant replenishment of personnel.

In any case, Headquarters: World War II is a really good game, although its sales are not phenomenal, despite the support of Slitherine Software itself, which is the publisher of Headquarters and controls what seems to be 80+% of the global wargame market. So, if you like complex strategy games that require care and caution, support Starni Games, especially since Headquarters is the publisher: World War II has a good Ukrainian localization.

And there, which never happens, maybe one day we will get Headquarters: Battle for Ukraine 1917-1921, Headquarters: Battle for Ukraine 1939-1956 and Headquarters: Battle for Ukraine 2014-2024. Starni Games actually has all the tools for this.