"Cum Deo et victricibus armis" Pike and Shot gets a brand new expansion module

By COL Bill Gray 08 May 2015 0

By Colonel Bill Gray, US Army (Retired)

 

“You may earn Salvation under my command, but hardly riches.” King Gustavus Adolphus.

Well, maybe, but not always.

Sometimes great riches can be found in the most inexpensive of wrappers, and so it is with Tercio to Salvo, the very first expansion module to Matrix/Slitherine’s impressive PC game, Pike and Shot. That said, it’s now time for BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front – as some disclosures are appropriate here. I love this game series, something you might have noticed had you read my previous review of the main game itself. Thus if you are expecting a positive review, you would be correct. If you’ve not read the previous review, grab a mug of your favorite libation, surf over to the earlier review and then sit a spell and read. In doing so you’ll not only set the stage for a look at this new expansion, but likely concoct a whiff of gunpowder in the air as well. And you will also start to understand why I love this infuriatingly addictive game.

As regards particulars, when you purchase Tercio to Salvo (and I’ve seen anything from $ 19.99 to $ 9.95 US as regards pricing) you’re getting another complete game campaign, this one bridging the gap between the Italian Wars and the 30 Years War. Like the other campaigns that came with the original game, this one comes with 10 historical battles for solo play, and nine can be played multiplayer as well. These engagements are:

  • From the French Wars of Religion – Dreux 1652, Montcour 1569, Coutras 1587, Arques 1589 and Ivry 1590.
  • From the Danish-Swedish Wars, the battle of Axtorna 1565.
  • From the Ottoman – Hapsburg Wars (and my personal favorite), the battle of Sisak 1593.
  • From the 80 Years War, the battle or Nieuwpoort 1600.
  • From the Swedish – Polish Wars, the battles of Kokenhausen 1601 and Kircholm 1605.

As such the expansion also includes two new playable countries, those being Russia and the United Provinces (aka Holland or the Dutch Republic). Also added into the expansion are no less than 49 new army lists, most with new graphics that just look crisper and cleaner to me, and some new troop types to top everything off. Yet the designer’s did not stop here. Instead they also plugged in the 24 army lists from the main game’s 30 Years War campaign suite to  make the total number of lists in the Tercio to Salvo campaign a whopping 73. This allows the development of warfare of many nations to be played, analyzed and compared.

 

 

 

 

Title page with one of the prepackaged scenarios, this one Swedes vs Poles.

Accessing these new resources is easy, as Tercio to Salvo simply appears on the campaign roster page as simply another campaign toggle button, right alongside the English Civil War or 30 Years War.

Another helping of victuals most rare.

Ahhhhhhhh, but there is yet another little gem to be discovered when you first install this expansion. If you are like me whenever you see a little notice about the availability of game patch, your reaction might well be, “Whatever, I’ll deal with this later as I want shoot some Janissaries.” If you are like me, “later” also never seems to come.

If my download from Steam is typical, then the four patches now out for this game are included with the Tercio to Salvo expansion and are automatically installed with the main program. And WOW, what a neat little package this set of patches is. Of course there are some under the hood improvements. But there are also a lot of functionality upgrades bound to make even the sternest Protestant amateur Cromwell grin like a Cheshire Cat.

My three favorites are as follows:

  • Mountains and cliffs are now available types within Skirmish Mode.
  • In Skirmish Mode the default size of maps has been enlarged to accommodate cavalry and light infantry maneuver.
  • The Biggie for me – in Skirmish Mode both sides can be selected to use the Pot Luck lists, rather than just one.

This last improvement is a hoot because all you do is turn off the Historical Filter button and use the Pot Luck lists to have close to infinite combinations of opposing forces on your battlefield. Why is this so cool?  Consider that in 1529, under the command of Ottoman Grand Vizier Pargah Ibrahim Pasha, the Turks made the first of many attempts to spend an unannounced – and unwelcome – long term vacation in Vienna. The attempt failed, of course, but what if Suleiman I’s pet Serasker the Vizier had pulled this off? Then it is highly probable that after a year of rest, refit and resourcing, the Ottoman’s might well have crossed into Bavaria, march west and eventually find itself bivouacking on the Rhine where they are confronted by the armies of France.

 

 

 

 

My dream scenario of a Franco-Ottoman clash, along with the main skirmish page.

You can do this with the Pot Luck option and I have already played this semi-historical scenario four times, having my head handed to me in three. All were close run things, and trust me, the Ottoman army is no push-over, brutally stubborn as a matter of fact. Not to despair, I’m going back for round five with a few tricks up my sleeve, so let’s see what happens.

And if you can do this with these particular armies, then why not the armies of the 9 Years War, the Great Northern War or the War of the Spanish Succession? Pikes were evidently still in use at Blenheim (1704) while the Russians and Swedes used the pike continuously throughout the period. Indeed the 1712 battle of Gadebush saw the Swedes use the weapon so effectively, that the opposing Danish King ordered them for his own army. As a rather obvious hint, this might be a respectable project for some amateur scenario designer. And if I didn’t mention it before, remember the game allows you to download such free scenarios, such as the 1644 Battle of Cropredy Bridge. They are actually quite good, and I can hardly wait to see the forces of the Sun King on the field.

A quibble or thrice most foule.

As usual there are a couple of quibbles where I might have done things differently, but I do have to admit one is picking the smallest nits you’d ever want to see. Here I wish they might have provided the historical designations for the units on the board, things like Lord Lumley’s Regiment of Horse or Graf von Twinkleheim’s Regiment of Foot. Minor to be sure.

The next one I have mentioned before, and although the reasoning has been explained to me, I still don’t get it. There are no leaders on the board, none, nada, zip, and my recent purchase of a 15 mm Janissary Mehter Band notwithstanding, there should be. Here I am not talking about some major command and control mechanism, but merely the fact that in this era major commanders led from the front and refused to let their troops proceed over deadly ground that they would not cross themselves. Prince Rupert of the Rhine comes to mind, but perhaps the most famous of such leaders was none other than King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. He was known for being utterly courageous in battle – and who else would refuse body armor, proclaiming the “the Lord God is my armor” – and led numerous cavalry charges. Of course that wound up making him shot deader than doornail at Lutzen in 1632, but you get the picture.

Surely allowing commanders on the field only for personal leadership bonuses and penalties is a doable process for future modules or patches.

Pontificatus Maximus.

At this point a review of an expansion module would likely end, but today I would like to stick my neck out and sermonize from a more personal perspective. The reason I really like this game so much is because it is one of the best miniature games I have ever played.

Miniatures? Huh, excuse me, you off your meds again, right, Bill or what?

No, don’t adjust your glasses because you heard (or read) me right, and if you think the concept is too flaky you just might want to check out designer Richard Bodley Scott’s authorship pedigree.

 

 

 

 

Main deployment phase along with a clash between the Ottomans and the new country of Russia.

 

The point is that the game both looks and plays like a miniatures game. And one of the prime differences between the two genres is its visuals. A mini game, if well done, provides a setting that should imagine the player in a spotter aircraft some 500 – 1000 feet above the battlefield looking down on what looks like to be a real battle, with realistic terrain and troop formations. IMHO, the Pike and Shot/Tercio to Salvo series is the first computer game I have seen to nearly identically match their miniature cousins. The maps are particularly stunning. I have been to some of these places, they haven’t changed much in centuries, so whether an Anna Beekman map or digital snaps, the designer nailed it.

For a player who is primarily a PC gamer, he not only has a spanking good game, but also a taste of the miniature genre as well. And who knows, this experience might tempt him to pick up some paint, brushes and a pack of Kapakula Cavalry or two.

 

 

 

Battle between the French, and another new country now portrayed, the Dutch Republic.

For the lead pusher, the impact may be more profound. Based on some research I did for my master’s thesis, I found that most mini gamers only play one or at most two, periods of history. Typically resources as regards time, money and research are the deciding factor. Also, many simply do not want to chunk over a wad of shekels to start a new period if they have no idea how it plays or how it looks on the tabletop. Many others would like to experience other periods in miniatures, but simply do not have the funds regardless.

For these guys Pike and Shot/Tercio to Salvo can only be described as a marriage made in heaven. With this PC game a lead head can enjoy the ambiance of miniature gaming without having to shell out buckets of cash and time. Then if he likes what he is playing he can proceed on with purchasing another load of lead adequate to make his basement into a formal bomb shelter. If he just doesn’t have the cash, a game like this allows him to get his miniature wargaming fix at a minimal cost. And, oh, did I mention that this is simply a spanking good game in its own right?

Sadly, there are few alternatives. GMT’s Pike and Shot series have excellent graphics, good rules, and trust me, designer Ben Hull knows his stuff. Here we are talking about he has got to be Maurice, Gustavus and Cromwell all reincarnated into one person. Yet these are cardboard counter board games with two dimensional maps and playing pieces with a single figure icon, a host of numbers that we have to imagine is a tercio of 1200 men or similar. The games are great, but the fact that they are board games simply takes away that “I was really there at the battle” perspective.

 

 

 

 

PC Swedes have pikes. Miniatures have pikes. Cardboard games, not so much.

 

So it is with most PC games as well, whether Tiller products or the super animated Total War products by Sega (though personally I think the Russian 1C company’s clones for medieval warfare to be better). The games have great graphics and superb animation. But alas the games are not turn based and seem to have sacrificed historical reality in favor of glitz for marketing, very successfully I might add. Yet for the mini gamer what he will see is that the flags are wrong, the uniforms are wrong, formations are wrong, movement is wrong, units fight to the death way too often and casualty rates WAY too high (if you are playing Napoleon Total War, please note that Brigadier B. P. Hughes in his book Firepower noted that in a 30 minute firefight, the hit ratio was only 5 %). Likewise, with such games I often feel that my ability to move my wrist and fingers quickly with a mouse is being tested, and not my tactical acumen.

So I must attest that there may be more to this expansion module than meets the eye. Perhaps it is a minor revolution that will eventually see the merging and fusion of two strong wargaming genres into one. If that be the case, than I say, “Bring it on!”

Judgment most faire.

This game is unbelievably addictive. How much? Well consider as I was playing the game in my man cave two weekends ago, my wife, Paula, shouted down, “Bill, dinner’s ready”.

My response (quote) was, “Prithee young wench, collect my mead and victuals and bring them hither and be quick about it.”

It was supposed to be joke, really, but then again for any man to take his life in his own hands in such a .  . . notable (you can translate that as “stupid”). . . manner for a PC game, you got to think this is something special. And the couch wasn’t that uncomfortable anyway.

So my parting suggestion is real simple. Escape from your lead or electron comfort zone and get this game. It really is that good, and perhaps is the first of many such games that together will spark a minor crossover gaming revolution of sorts. The game has my highest recommendation.

PS: Oh yes, the title means in English, “With God and victorious arms.”

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