30 July 2014

PC Game Review: Mosby's Confederacy

Classic gameplay with both a turn-based strategic and a real-time tactical game? Sounds pretty good. Find out why we like it so much.

Published on 6 JAN 2009 1:03pm by Scott Parrino
  1. Tilted Mill Entertainment
  2. Tilted Mill Entertainment
  3. american civil war, ground combat, turn-based, real-time, north america, strategic, tactical, single-player

When the Flames Die Down

Political correctness and wargames aren’t typically thought of…one way or the other.  Wargamers think nothing of sitting down to a game on the Eastern Front where the Second World War saw some of the grimmest fighting between Germans and Soviets – neither particularly palatable in their historical conduct of the war.  Yet wargamers can parse the historical fact from gaming fun and move on with their hobby.  To outsiders this may seem strange, but it’s little different than a college sports fan cheering for his school’s rival because of some odd twist that places his team’s game rankings in a better light if the rival team wins, too. 

According to the Matt Zimmitti of Tilted Mill, “It is difficult to read the history and not want to create a game that tries to capture the strategy and tactics of someone like Mosby.”  He added, “…it is a point in history to be explored and debated rather than avoided. We do no service to those who fought bravely on both sides by simply opting to not create works based on the period.”

I agree with Matt on that one.  One of my favorite anecdotes comes from a lecture I attended about the Bayuex Tapestry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry) at the National World War II Museum (www.ddaymuseum.org) recently. At the end of the lecture, Kenneth Hoffman, the Director of Education at the museum asked a simple question:  How long will it be until it no longer matters who won the Second World War?  Fresh memories of the Civil War are long gone, but it is a topic that still can provoke passionate discussion. 

Eventually the passions around a conflict die.  I guess wargamers get over that passion quicker – or at least can separate a game from real life. Those sensitive to the topic would do best to avoid this game while the rest of us enjoy it. 

Mosby’s Confederacy is a single-player game set during the American Civil War.  It places the player in the role of John Singleton Mosby, a Confederate cavalry commander who earned a reputation as a dynamic and daring commander who made life difficult for the Union.  After a stint of riding with J.E.B. Stuart he managed to secure his own command.  With that he harassed Union supply lines and succeeded in capturing several Union officers, including a Brigadier General. 

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A typical mission.

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Historic missions are a bit tougher but offer rewards.

Mosby’s Confederacy is a turn-based strategy game and real-time tactical game.  Success in the tactical game is translated to the turn-based game in the form of Reputation points, which can be expended to improve the infrastructure of surrounding towns on the strategic map.  Improvements include raising popularity within the town (itself important as certain actions are not possible without a minimum level of support – like a hospital), drilling troops, improving their weapons and equipment, increasing stable size for captured horses, etc. 

 

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The strategic map.

The tactical game takes place in real-time, albeit at a slow pace. 

The Wargamer’s staff is divided on its opinion of Mosby’s Confederacy.  Some of us love the game in an easy-to-play-difficult-to-master kind of way.  Others find the rudimentary AI and simplistic gameplay to be a huge turn-off. 

This Year’s Southun Bell Is…

Mosby’s Confederacy isn’t going to win any beauty pageants.  She isn’t the purtiest girl at the dance.  The graphics are functional but not overwhelming.  Yet Mosby’s Confederacy is a bit like a girl who is easy to talk with – she’s the one you’ll find yourself spending time with because of her easy-going nature, charming southern drawl, and is just a bit old-fashioned in a good way.

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The graphics aren't great, but I do love those autumn colors.

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Note the posture of the wounded guys - they do limp and move slower when injured.

The fuss about Mosby’s Confederacy is undoubtedly going to center around the AI.  And let’s face it.  The Yanks, especially early in the game, are about as dumb as a box of rocks.  In the strategic game the player is given access to troops from surrounding towns.  Over the course of time those troops improve in experience and gain special abilities, such as shooting faster, more accurately, or hiding better.  It’s not a complicated setup, and the tactical game comes down to spending a lot of time skirting the edge of the map, trying to ambush small numbers of Union troops caught or lured away from a larger group.  Each individual has a limited circle of awareness, and anything taking place outside of that area is ignored.  The player’s job is to locate a small number of enemy troops, possibly lure them away from a larger body or simply ambush them outright, and then hightail it out of there.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The player is likely to incur casualties as part of these actions, and sometimes discretion is the better part of valor: retreating off the map without accomplishing every objective in a mission is sometimes the best course of action. 

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The AI has a limited radius of awareness, as seen here.

This kind of gameplay requires immense amounts of patience (something I have in ample supply) and it does a fairly good job of abstracting the kind of “asymmetric warfare” (as we’d call it today) practiced by Confederate raiders during the Civil War.  The player should take great care in moving his troops about, and time should be invested in exploring the map, Union positions, and generally attempting to understand whether the troops on hand will be able to survive an engagement.  All of this has come together in a most charming way for me, and I’ll gladly tell anyone I meet that I’ve had a lot of fun firing up Mosby’s Confederacy and learning its ins and outs.  It’s got an “old school” feel to it, and I suspect that if it had been published a decade ago, would still be heralded as a “classic”.  It may yet achieve that status on its own in today’s world anyway.

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The key is to lure a few of the closest enemy units away from the main group.

Ya Heard About Them Thar Steam Engines Yet?

Mosby’s Confederacy can be purchased through several online publishers.  I got mine via Steam and the setup went without incident.  The game ran fine after installation, but a patch has been released that updates some graphics, a missing help file, and squished a couple of bugs. 

Documentation for the game is self-explanatory, with mouseover help prompts explaining the function or role of practically everything on the map.  In some instances the clarity or usefulness of something may not be fully clearly, but descriptions like increases accuracy or stealth are clear enough.  Gamers who live on knowing the exact boost in efficiency a unit may enjoy with its next upgrade may find this frustrating, but to my eyes this lends itself well to a game based in the 19th Century.

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Game Intro.

The graphics in the game won’t impress your 13 year old nephew, but they work well enough.  Small touches in animation, such as individuals limping as they take increasing levels of damage are enough to convey the point without being a waste of resources on useless eye candy.  The musical score offers a tinny piano playing in the background, perfect for setting the mood without getting in the way. 

 

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The help files explain pretty much every aspect of the game.

Interface

As noted above, virtually all information in the game is either present at the click of a button or can be access with a mouseover.  When the game is started via Steam it runs in a window on top of other windows on the desktop.  The screen can be maximized to eliminate any additional clutter behind it.  I do have a couple of small gripes.  When Outlook would sync to bring in new mail, notifications would bleed through the game and be visible for a moment.  Some gamers may find this helpful, since the game’s slow pace facilitates pauses without issue.  Personally, I like my games to be immersive, and when email is rolling in while I’m gaming, I prefer to be oblivious to it.  One other gripe – scrolling across the tactical map takes a bit of finesse.  Moving the cursor to the top or sides of the map sometimes doesn’t get recognized, and scrolling the map was best done by placing the cursor just inside the frame of the map.  Neither of these issues is sufficient to discourage my enthusiasm for the game, but blemishes they are, and I’ve done my duty in reporting them.

 

Editors, Expansions, and Replay Value

At present there is no game editor or expansions.  While Tilted Mill hasn’t tipped their hand on this one, a quick glance at past titles indicates that sequels aren’t typical of their studio.  The long-term value of Mosby’s Confederacy is likely to be a question of replay.  On the strategic map the player is typically presented with at least two, and typically three or sometimes four scenarios.  While most of the scenarios begin to look similar, the number of choices at the strategic level, combined with different approaches on the tactical map suggest that gamers who enjoy this style of gaming may have a nearly infinite number of choices in replaying the game.  Personally, I typically don’t live in one game for extended periods of time.  As fun as Mosby’s Confederacy is, my choice will be to move on.  However, the game is reasonably priced for the amount of time and enjoyment I’ve had from it; gamers who enjoy replaying games and experimenting with different strategies should find plenty of options.

 

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The end of a successful mission.

Unfortunately, no multiplayer game component is available.  It might have been fun attempting to thwart Confederate plans as a more wiley Yankee General, but the game was never designed with that in mind.  Players seeking a multiplayer Civil War fix will have to look elsewhere.

Dance With The One Who Brung Ya

If my love of this game wasn’t clear before, it should be now.  I like Mosby’s Confederacy.  The AI is practically brain dead, with units having limited radii of awareness.  The principle challenge is in drawing out or ambushing smaller numbers of what is otherwise an overwhelming force in order to whittle down the AI in manageable chunks.  To me, this is good old fashioned fun, as it involves a degree of risk and uncertainty.  Stirring up too big of a hornet’s nest will find the player out numbered, out gunned, and out of luck.  But for those who enjoy a slow, stealthy tactical game, combined with a simple but enjoyable strategic game, Mosby’s Confederacy is great fun.