Thirty Years of War with Pike and Musket

By Nik Gaukroger 01 Sep 2014 0

A long, long time ago, back when I began figure wargaming (and computer games were all a bit sci-fi) my first army was an English Civil War Royalist one ? all poncy cavaliers in floppy hats and lace to fight the pudding basin haired rebel Parliamentarians. Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge (just where is this bridge BTW?) and I?ve spent an awful lot of time and money on various wargaming periods and formats, however, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War have always remained my true wargaming home ? but they remain rather neglected periods compared to others. Despite the impact of the Thirty Years War on Europe, probably as much in its day as WW2, it has attracted little, if any, attention from computer wargamers despite its obvious attractions. Now, however, Slitherine and Byzantine Games are bringing us a game set in the 17th century (with a bit of 15th and 16th century thrown in as well as add ons). This game is Pike and Shot.

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However, before we start a bit of a (sort of) declaration of interest. Byzantine Games is basically one Richard Bodley Scott, a name that may well be familiar to historical figure gamers out there from his involvement in the DBM and Field of Glory rule sets. Pike and Shot is more or less an implementation of the Field of Glory: Renaissance rules, and I was one of the co-authors of that rule set. So whilst I have no direct connection with Pike and Shot, I was involved with the rules it is based on. Make of that what you will when reading the following first impressions ?

OK, this first impressions review was based on the current beta version. This is a pretty complete beta and is extremely stable. Although some things may still change I expect that the game on release will be more or less what is currently available to testers. For those who don?t know Pike and Shot is one of the Slitherine games currently in development that are using the Battle Academy engine. So we?re talking about a game that plays across a ?board? of square tiles rather than the hexes. Now some people think that this somehow makes it less of a ?real wargame?, however, I?d politely say that is a load of rubbish, especially for a tactical battle game s Pike and Shot is. It also shows that the Battle Academy engine is a good choice for a modding type development as there is little in Pike and Shot that shows that the engine was developed for an entirely different period of warfare. The game obviously remains turn based, as is Field of Glory: Renaissance.

 

Look and Feel

Byzantine Games have chosen to give the game a look and feel based on the woodcuts of battles from the 17th century. Thus we have units of pike and shot (musketeers) with a central clump of pikes, which is where the flags are, with the musketeers on the wings of the pikemen. Some special formations, such as the famous Spanish tercios from earlier in the period, have different depiction, again based on the period wood cuts. Check out this period illustration and a couple of screenshots which illustrate this nicely.

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As you can see from the zoomed-out shot the units are still identifiable when you?re looking at the wider picture which is good. When units shoot you get a smoke effect for a short time, which is a nice touch in my view. Now this look and feel will not be to everyone?s taste, at least initially, however, as a fan of the period I really like it and think it is well implemented. The interface is also being implemented with a period feel, however, this is not fully completed yet as this screenshot shows J

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What?s in the Game

The beta version includes 4 tutorial and 30 stand alone scenarios based on historical battles; 10 for the Thirty Years War, 10 for the English Civil War and 10 for the Great Italian Wars. Your forces are mainly pre-set for these games, however, you are usually able to select a few additional units to your taste. I am given to understand that a final decision has not yet been made as to what scenarios will be included in the shipping product, it could be all of those in the beta, or it could be something different. We will, of course, update when we know. For the terminally interested the scenarios are:

Thirty Years War

Pilgram-Lomnitz, 1618; White Mountain, 1620; Wimpfen, 1622; Lutter, 1626; First Breitenfeld, 1631; Lutzen, 1632; First Nordlingen, 1634; Wittstock, 1636; Second Breitenfeld, 1642; Roccoi, 1643

 

English Civil War

Stratton, 1643; Adwalton Moor, 1643; Edgehill, 1642; Storming of Bristol, 1643; Nantwich, 1644; Cheriton, 1644; Marston Moor, 1644; Lostwithiel, 1644; Second Newbury, 1644; Naseby, 1645

 

Great Italian Wars

Seminara, 1495; Fornova, 1495; Ravenna, 1512; Novarra, 1513; Marignano, 1515; Bicocca, 1522; Pavia, 1525; Ceresole, 1544; St. Quentin, 1557; Gravelines, 1558.

 

In addition to these there is a Random Map option which generates a battlefield and 2 armies with which to fight over it. This is a very flexible tool as you can set the dimensions of the battlefield, the type of battle you wish to fight (attack, defend, open battle, etc.) as well as being able to choose which army to fight with. A real bonus here, and a really top feature, is that the available armies are not just limited to those in the scenarios that are provided. For example Ottoman Turk and Polish armies are available even though they do not appear in the set battle. It is possible that these, therefore, hint at expansions that are already being planned for Pike and Shot ? which would be great. Just to prove it, here are some Ottomans (about to be beaten up by some 1640?s French as it happens ?).

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There is also multi-player using Slitherine?s PBEM server system. This allows you to play some of the scenarios against another human player rather than the AI. Not all of the scenarios are available for multi-player in the beta as not all are considered OK for this. When you play in multi-player you are not just trying to beat your opponent, but also you are scored on how well you do compared with history. Thus, for example, Parliament could win at Naseby (as per history), but if the King did better than in reality he would actually win the scenario. I like this.

On top of all this there is a scenario editor built in so you can design and distribute your own in addition to those provided.

 

AI

Vital part of the game, obviously; so how is it? Pretty good in fact. OK, so not the same as playing a real live human being (or even a wargamer), but the AI in Pike and Shot is pretty competent and doesn?t make too many silly mistakes from what I have seen. This means that the scenarios played against it are a proper challenge in most cases. An interesting fact is that although there are 5 different difficulty levels in the game, the AI plays the same at each level; what changes is the balance of the armies, either in favour of, or against the human player. A much better way of doing things than altering how the AI plays in my view as it means you are playing the same game regardless of difficulty level; something that doesn?t happen with the original Battle Academy alas.

 

Initial Conclusions

I?m sure you?ll have worked out by now that I really like Pike and Shot. Not only does it appeal to me on the basis of the historical period, but it is also a damned good game. The scenarios are nicely crafted and the AI is a good challenge. All in all I reckon this should be a winner. If you?re into the period it?s a must, and if not I?d recommend giving it a go.

And finally a load of screenshots ?

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