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Maoist Internationalist Movement

"Hearts of Iron II" (HOI2)
reviewed on IRTR
Atari
2004

I had some free time earlier today and "played" the game as Cuba to watch how the artificial intelligence (AI) acts. The game does a great job of showcasing the valiant struggle that the communist parties of the world led against imperialism at the time, approximately 1936-1948.

I noticed that communist China really harries the Japanese while "Nationalist" China (Kuomintang) and its warlord flunkies kept withdrawing, seemingly hoping for Japan to take out the communists. The only time I ever saw the Chinese "Nationalists" launch a major offensive against Japan was after Japan destroyed communist China in one game (most games the Maoists survive but sometimes they aren't lucky). Of course, prior to the Xian incident, [referring to the arrest of the leader of the KMT by the communist allied forces that led to a treaty among the Chinese] the "Nationalists" were vigorously assaulting the communist forces.

Additionally, the U.$. AI will only open up a second front against the Nazis if 1. the USSR is nearing Berlin or 2. if the USSR has been pushed back almost to the Urals. I saw over 70 U.$. divisions sit in the UKKK for almost 2 years before launching their invasion. They had full control of the skies and seas and could have launched it earlier, but they were letting the USSR suffer unnecessarily, just like in real life.

Feeling intrigued I opened up the text files for the AI and found that this behavior is indeed hardcoded. It was pretty interesting that this game was so truthful about history.

Also, I noticed a few partisans popping up and giving the axis hell later on in the war. Partisans in China pinned down Japanese forces and even liberated a few provinces which they turned over to Mao. I also saw Japan run out of most Indonesia by an insurgency that led to the creation of a Stalinist Indonesia occupying Java and Sumatra. Unfortunately, Holland invaded the area after the European war was over with Allied help. It wasn't looking to good. Partisans also liberated Yugoslavia and put Tito in power.

"HOI2" covers the period of 1936 to 1948. When you play a country you run its economy, its production, and you control what it trades and to whom. You also pick cabinet members for your government who will gives different benefits. Your cabinet choices and political choices you can make are limited by your government type. So Stalinist USSR could pick from various Stalinist ministers for its various cabinet positions. For example Zhukov, Roskovkosky, Vasilevsky, Voroshilov and Stalin could all be chief of the army. Zhukov gives benefits to artillery and anti-tank gun research and production, while Roskovkosky gives a bonus to your armies' speed, while Stalin makes it so your armies are less wasteful with supplies. This is just one of several cabinet positions that the player can make choices on.

Most countries in the world today can be "liberated" in the game. Britain and France can liberate every one of their colonies (though a computer controlled Britain or France would never do this) or if the USSR got into a war with them and took over those territories the USSR could liberate those countries. Depending on who liberates them, countries will have different ideologies and ruling governments. If Britain or Belgium granted independence to the Congo it gets the Belgian king as its head of state and is run by white guys. If the USSR, or another Stalinist country, liberates the territory Lumumba becomes head of state. Several nations without states right now can be liberated like The Arab Federation (which has claims on all Arab lands), Kurdistan, Quebec, etc. Whenever you load a saved game you can change your country to any nation on the map, so I've played around a little with a Stalinist Arab Federation before.

Also the player controls the country's armies, navies, and airforces. This takes place in real time on a "Risk" (referring to the board game) style map full of provinces. You have to use a lot of care to get the right people in command of the right divisions, keep those divisions supplied and in fighting shape, etc. It is an interesting challenge. A lot of communist China's commanders are very good for so called "fourth generation warfare," or asymmetrical warfare. Mao is a very able commander in the game who is above average tactically with the "trickster" specialty, but Chu Teh is probably China's best general in the game.

The final interesting aspect of the game is how it models technological research. Basically in this game the player gives contracts out for individuals or institutions to develop certain industrial techniques, weapons, or doctrines. Usually for the United $tates or the Nazis its a corporation given the contract but for the USSR it'll be something like Kharkov University or the Ninzy Tangil Tractor Factory doing the work with Vasilevsky and other military professionals researching military doctrines. Lin Biao and Mao can both be used to develop doctrines for communist China and both excel at researching doctrines relating to asymmetrical warfare (doctrines will give your soldiers bonuses to their organization and morale).

Anyway, HOI2 is fairly nice and it doesn't come off as anti-Stalin as the first one did. In the first game Tukachevsky had a skill of 5, which is the highest skill that any military leader could start out with and was skilled in an absurd number of areas: while on the offensive, while on the defensive, while commanding tanks, etc. In the sequel he is at skill 2 which is about average and is only especially skilled while on the offensive. So while the officer purge is still temporarily disruptive in this game, at least they no longer seem to parrot the line that the officer's purge was a huge mistake that ruined the Red Army. In fact most of the officers purged have the Old Guard trait, which means in the game that they will not gain much experience at all when used, thereby rendering them more or less useless.

I had a game as the USSR where I went on to go to war with the Allies after the Nazis were destroyed and wound up liberating all of Africa and mainland Asia. But I wasn't able to force a landing on Britain before the game ran out. However, Dr. Kurchatov's team had developed the bomb for me in Semipalatinsk so I was probably going to force Britain to surrender in the near future.

The USSR, communist China, and Mongolia all have female military leaders by the way, no other countries in the game do (to the best of my knowledge at least).

Here is a picture from when I was playing the 1936 scenario as communist China. We were able to push Japan out of China with the help of some of the warlords and Chiang Kai Shek's armies. After Japan was kicked out we resumed the civil war and forced Chiang off the mainland. The United $tates took over Taiwan and set Chiang up there so it was somewhat historical except that China liberated all of Korea and IndoChina and established Stalinist governments there. I was planning on eventually trying to liberate India, but I never got around to it.

"Hearts of Iron 2" seems politically advanced over its prequel in many ways. Just like the first one you have to engage in heavy handed measures as the USSR to defeat the Nazis. However this game no longer presents the purged officers as great officers but rather men of average skill. Not purging the officers now causes enormous dissent and can lead to the regime being overthrown.

Additionally you can now micromanage your country a bit more and there is a large bonus to having a planned economy.

Additionally all countries in the world from 1936 to 1948 (plus any that are liberated from their colonizers) can be played. It is an interesting challenge to play as Maoist China.

This is definitely a very interesting strategy game and one of very few games that give a fairly accurate view of the Stalin era.

P.S.
I should note that there is at least one nonexistent "nation" that one can liberate in the game: I$rael. Though it is arguably a nation now; it wouldn't qualify as one at the time. Also there are several countries that can be liberated that have no national basis, like Nigeria or other African states with arbitrary colonial era boundaries. Additionally "California," "the Confederacy," and "Texas" can become independent countries should an occupier of the mainland United States wish it so. Unfortunately those countries don't have Stalinist ministers. However the game is really easy to modify and I am thinking about adding New Africa as a country that can be liberated or alternately making a bunch of Black Stalinist ministers for the Confederate States of America if it is granted independence by the Soviets.

There are several "what if" countries that are possible to liberate in the game. For example, if a country controls all of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway it can create "Scandinavia," a pan-Nordic state. I also already mentioned the Arab Federation. All of these states have different ministers and internal policies based on the ideology of the nation that liberated them.

Partisans can stage massive uprisings in the game and even liberate annexed countries on their own (this happens rarely in anywhere other than Yugoslavia and the occupied USSR). In the one communist China game I have played I saw Scandinavia liberate itself from the Nazis and become an independent Stalinist nation. Of course it was only possible because the bulk of Germany's forces that had been in Scandinavia were being destroyed by the USSR in Poland at the time.

[[email protected] adds: MIM does not use the term "Stalinist" except in context. Here the game-makers appear to use the term "Stalinist" so we shall too.]