1 August 2014

PC Game Review: Scourge of War: Chancellorsville

Pascal Giovannini tackles the latest stand-alone release of the Scourge of War series with Chancellorsville. Is it a Robert E. Lee or a McClellan?

Published on 13 FEB 2013 4:52pm by Pascal Giovannini

Publisher: Matrix Games / Slitherine

Developer: NorbSoftDev

 

Introduction

While fairly familiar with the American Civil War, Scourge of War: Chancellorsville is the first game from the Take Command – Scourge of War family that I am playing. My first real-time experience was Field of Glory in 1993 and Task Force 1942 from 1992, both from Microprose. I’ve then been playing Civil War: Robert E. Lee and Civil War 2: Generals by Impressions/Sierra since 1997.

While the Battle of Chancellorsville was one of the most brilliant victories by Robert E. Lee, there are only a few games where this battle is represented and only three of them are detailed: Civil War: Robert E. Lee (the battle is less detailed in Civil War 2), HPS Chancellorsville (very detailed) and now Scourge of War: Chancellorsville. American Conquest: Divided Nations Battle of Chancellorsville focuses only on the assault by “Stonewall” Jackson. Strangely, some other famous games completely neglected this battle: North vs South by Interactive Magic, the first John Tiller’s games and Sid Meier’s takes on the American Civil War.

Scourge of War: Chancellorsville is a stand-alone game that also works as an add-on to Scourge of War: Gettysburg.

Click for full imageClick for full imageClick for full image 

 

Historical Background

In May 1963, after the battle of Antietam in September 1862, the Army of the Potomac, reorganised under the command of General Joseph Hooker, started their offensive and crossed the Rappahannock fords in order to fight the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee’s command. Instead of retreating with an army half the size of the one of the enemy, Robert E. Lee decided to go into the attack and conceived an unbelievable bold plan. His best General, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, would take 30,000 men, lead them on a long road around the enemy and attack its right flank. The rest of the army would hold the positions in order to give a false impression to the Union’s generals. The surprise attack on the Union’s XI corps was a disaster for General Hooker and brought a brilliant victory to the Confederate’s forces. Chancellorsville was at the same time one of the greatest victories for Robert E. Lee as well as one of its most bitter ones. His best general, “Stonewall” Jackson was shot by his own men after returning from a night survey mission. He died a few days later.


Installation and Technical Issues

The installation of Scourge of War: Chancellorsville went without problems. As with the all the games from Matrix Games, the game runs without the DVD in the drive. If you have already Gettysburg installed, you access the Chancellorsville scenarios through the Gettysburg menus and, unlike me, not through the separate Chancellorsville menus you get if you only install the add-on only.

At one point, one of my save games didn’t work, but this was due to a very obscure bug. We notified NorbSoft about this and were informed that it will be addressed in an upcoming patch. Overall however, the game is fairly stable and I didn’t experience any crashes on my gaming laptop which is at low-end of the requirements.

Click for full imageClick for full imageClick for full image 

 

Interface / Music/ Graphics

The animations in battles are done with lots of care. When you zoom in very closely you get to see the 2d sprites of the soldiers which are fairly basic. However, when zoomed out, watching armies facing each other is very impressive as there are so many units and the battlefield around Chancellorsville has been created with a lot of attention. The nature is well done but it’s not really an extreme “living” environment. It does the job very nicely.

I would have like to hear some traditional music during the battles but there’s only some pieces playing while you’re in the menus. It seems that have decided for more realism as the only in game music comes from the regiments musicians.

Generally, you have access to all the information you need to play and, while not perfect, the interface is logical and easy to use.

 

Gameplay

Four long tutorials help you learn how to play the game. As it’s my first game in the series, this was very important to me and I’ve learnt a lot through them. The battle map is huge and depicts correctly the terrain around Chancellorsville.

All the game happens in real-time and when I say real-time, I mean real-time. One hour game play equals one hour of real-life. It’s possible to speed up things though but when you’re fighting, it’s not something you really want to do. You command regiments, brigades, divisions and even corps. Every unit has its very specific characteristics and the different leaders react according to their historical counterparts. Some regiments have a lot of experience while others are greener, less experienced. This has a big impact on how they will react on the battlefield so it’s important to check their statistics beforehand. I would have enjoyed having more historical information on the units but it’s not there. Still, there are unique enough and this makes you care for them on the battlefield.

The weather and the time of the battle will affect the morale and the fatigue of the soldiers. When the night is falling, the view gets shorter and shorter and it gets really hard to spot enemy units.

Click for full imageClick for full imageClick for full image 

To command your units, you can just select them and double click where you want them to go and tell them what formation you want them to take once they reach their goal. Generals will order their units to use roads when possible, which makes them move faster but this is obviously not a good idea if the enemy is close. It’s a feature very handy when there’s a big distance to march and you can order regiments to use roads as well. During the battle, every officer will give orders to his units so there’s no need for micromanagement in most of the cases. Losing a general can lead to a defeat so you have to pay attention to them and be careful not to let them too close to the front.

I would have liked to be able to give orders on the mini-map, but it’s unfortunately not possible. As it is, for larger battles, if you want to move your units over large distances, you have to select your units, open the mini-map, click on where you want to go and then double-click on the battlefield to move your regiment, division, brigade or corps. Having a smaller mini-map which could remain open as you play would be convenient, but as is you have to open the mini-map very often to check the overall situation. In checking with Norbsoft, this was intentional as to not have the game be a “click fest”, but there is a chance that in the future giving orders via the mini-map will be included.

In the most difficult levels, you have to give orders through couriers. This makes the entire battle experience very realistic and challenging. For myself, I do not feel enough at ease to trust my AI officers to let them handle all the action by themselves. I still feel more comfortable when I can correct a unit’s position or movement. Commanding an entire Corp is very challenging and requires lots of practice. Initially I was hoping to be able to control the entire battle but this would be too big an undertaking in this game.

At the end of the battle, you are shown your results and how many troops you have lost. On the campaign map, you see your best results and this motivates to improve your scores.


AI

The enemy AI is very good and this makes the game very challenging. It maintains formations and will try to flank you if possible. There are some path finding problems however and units will have sometimes an erratic behaviour but it’s more a visual thing which happens from time to time. Overall, units will do what they are asked to. I’ve been playing tactical wargames for the past 20 years and this one is a real challenge. I’ve won only a few scenarios so far and I will have to replay many as my results were miserable.


Historical Accuracy

The Battle of Chancellorsville is one of the most difficult to represent as there were elements of surprise and chance coming into play. While the assault by “Stonewall” Jackson is really nicely done, you don’t get the impression that the Union’s troops have been taken by surprise as you find them already in formation when you encounter them. However, the units are faithfully placed and it’s the best depiction of this battle I’ve ever seen on a computer game. The amount of units is tremendous and this is a huge battle, which can take up to two hours to finish. I have studied this particular battle more precisely before and every scenario is well-researched and detailed.

Overall, along with HPS Chancellorsville, Scourge of War: Chancellorsville is the most detailed representation of this battle I know of. The realism of the battle is breath-taking for any wargamer fond of the American Civil War.

Click for full imageClick for full imageClick for full image

Replay Value

There are 20 scenarios representing the key moments of the battle with lots of details, the correct regiments and commanders. The battles last from 30 minutes to 2 hours, so you get a lot of gameplay for the price. Scourge of War: Chancellorsville provides a very long and enjoyable gaming experience. I would have liked to see some longer scenarios as you feel the pressure even during the smaller battles but on the other hand, that pressure makes the whole thing interesting.

 

Documentation

The documentation that comes with Scourge of War: Chancellorsville is brand new, spanning 136 pages and is also available in PDF form. The manual mentions 6 tutorials but the game has only 4. It is however a very good and detailed manual. The support in the Matrix forums is extremely helpful and good.


Multiplayer

Scourge of War: Chancellorsville’s multiplayer mode allows you to fight head-to-head with your friend (or several others) on the Internet. Generals interested in MP games will probably have to make an appointment with someone they know or on the forums to set up larger battles.

 

Modding

The game can be modded and new scenarios can be created so there’s a lot do if you like to further work on it once you finished (and won) the 20 scenarios.

 

Conclusion

The game depicts the Battle of Chancellorsville in an unbelievable realistic and historically correct way. Despite its few shortcomings and steep learning curve for new players, the game is very solid and detailed with a very competent AI. The suspense on the battlefield really lasts until the last moment. It’s a mandatory game for Civil War armchair generals and I will definitively be taking a look at the main game Scourge War: Gettysburg as soon as I am done playing this one. I hope they continue to improve the game’s engine and, maybe once in the future, fulfill the promise of a strategy layer described in the final notes of the Take Command: Second Manassas manual.

Review written by: Pascal Giovannini 

 

System Requirements

 

Minimum Specs

 Reviewer's Specs

OS: Windows XP (SP2+), Vista or 7

CPU: Dual Core 1.5 GHz CPU or higher

Memory: 2 GB RAM

Video: 256 MB Dedicated Video Card with DirectX 9.0c or higher. Video

card should NOT be integrated on motherboard, but should be separate,

no shared memory

Sound: DirectX Compatible Sound Card

Hard Disk Space: 2 GB Free

DirectX Version: 9.0c (Included)

Resolution: Variable, 1024x768 minimum

 • 2.13 GHz Intel Pentium P6200
 • 4  GB RAM
 • Intel HD Graphics up to 1755 MB
 • Windows 7 SP 1