Submitted by Eric Daniel
You know you've got some down time in your combat tour when you start thinking about computer games, but as luck and fortune would have it I did and so I did. One of the games I wiled away my down time with was a game put out by Paradox Interactive called Hearts of Iron 2.
HoI2 is a grand strategy game set in the Second World War (specifically, the timeline runs from January 1st, 1936 through December 30th, 1947.) In HoI2 you are the leader of one of the 175 or so nations or political factions (as is the case with China.) Truly, if you want to declare yourself the Maximum Presidente for Life of Cuba and try your hand at becoming the world's first nuclear super power, go for it. In a very broad sense the goal of the game (other than not getting your country occupied by another sovereign nation) is to be on the winning team. The game recognizes three political entities; the Allies, the Axis, and the Communists, though they could just as easily be called factions A, B, and C. The "victor" is that faction which has the most victory points at the end of the game (or when you literally take over the world, which ever comes first.) You are not required to be a member of any one of these factions, however, and indeed you can go it alone just to see if you can survive (my personal favorite was playing Finland and trying to keep back the Red Horde.)
In HoI2, as the Head of State you manage everything; the production of military assets, the development of your country's industrial and transportation infrastructure, as well as the development of new technologies and the commencement of international trade so that you can get the things you need to feed your military-industrial machine. Moreover, you are responsible for the political climate of your country (different government styles have different effects on your nation's productivity) as well as deciding what "entangling" alliances you will enter into and what priorities you will set to your industry (in HoI2 you only have a fixed number of resources to devote to a myriad of tasks so concentrating your energy in one area will force you to make sacrifices in others.)
To say that the relationships between production and research, trade and industry, building and maintaining a fighting force are complex and interwoven is a bit of an understatement; the decisions you make in 1936 can make or break you come 1945. You can build a big infantry based army early in the game, but understand that your legions will be rendered obsolete by more technologically advanced forces later on and while it is possible to upgrade your units this not only requires time (which means they need to be out of combat) and resources, which takes away from building new formations, and all of this is a moot point if you're an island nation like England or Japan (or Australia or Madagascar for that matter) and you haven't got a Navy.
In addition to being the HoS, you are also the CiC and there's a lot of fighting in this game. Ground troops are represented as divisions with attached brigades, while aircraft are represented as squadrons and ships, with the exception of submarines and destroyers, which are represented as flotillas, are depicted as individual vessels. The quality and effectiveness of your military id dependent upon their level of technology, both in terms of hardware, as well as fighting style and doctrine. Moreover, leaders play a significant role in combat, a good leader can make or break a fighting force, as can thrusting an in experienced leader in "over his head" (leaders can influence a number of units based upon their rank. Stacking a leader with more units than he can manage not only has a severe negative effect on the units over the limit, it also impacts the units he can lead.) Finally, HoI2 takes into account such things as terrain, time of day, supply availability, as well as local weather.
In any event, what really sold me on the game was not it's accuracy, though it is quite accurate, or it's playability, it's an immensely enjoyable game, but rather the really low computer requirements it has. This game is no Halo 3, but then it doesn't have a fraction of the CPU and graphics card requirements either, which means you can play it on anything. I'd seen quite a few folk drop thousands of dollars into top end gaming laptops in Iraq only to watch them get eaten alive by dust and sandstorms. HoI2, on the other hand, ran just fine on the POS laptop I brought with me which I ended up recycling at the end of my deployment rather than bother to clean it up. Simply put, it will run on any machine over there.