NEC PLURIBUS IMPAR - A First Look at Wars of Succession26 Oct 2016 2
Nec Pluribus Impar! This was the motto that Louis XIV of France had embroidered on the standards of all his cavalry and dragoon regiments. Conversationally it means something like ”Without Equal – Superior to All!” Without giving anything away (ahem, well maybe), this might well apply to a beta test I am participating in for AGEOD’s new strategic wargame covering the War of the Spanish Succession (WSS in the toy soldier world) and the Great Northern War (GNW). Called Wars of Succession (or WOS for this article), if there is one word to describe this game, that word would be 'simple'.
Now most folks know I am a miniatures gamer and thus tend to gravitate towards board and computer games that look and work like tabletop gaming. Thus we find my continuing love affair with Matrix’s Pike & Shot and more recently, its Japanese cousin. There are some exceptions however, and these pop up from time to time because of the subject matter covered. WOS is exactly this type of game because it covers one of my favorite periods of history (the War of Spanish Succession) to include one of my favorite battles (Malplaquet in 1709) and one of my very favorite military commanders (French Marshal General Claude Hector, duc de Villars). True, the visual on the tabletop are a veritable cavalcade of color with some of the spiffiest uniforms and flags this side of a gold bullion repository, but miniature gaming also mandates research and this tactical level learning often sparks curiosity in the operational-strategic level of war as well. So it was for me and the WSS/GNW and why I jumped at the chance to be a beta tester.
Now, as you read forward remember I am describing a beta test, and thus planned changes have yet to be implemented and all bugs have yet to be worked out. Because something may not work like it’s supposed to is not indicative of a bad design, but merely a product yet to be completed. After all, that is what beta testers are for, to find the bugs so the coders can correct them. While I’ve had the expected frozen screen and the like, I must say as regards design theory and game play, WOS is a pretty tight product.
One of the reasons for this undoubtedly comes from AGEOD’s own name, which is an acronym for those who are unaware. It means Adaptive Game Engine (or AGE) Online Distribution. The AGE is a common, generic platform that is both expandable and adaptable, depending upon the period of history simulated and the level of management the player must attend to. Thus all AGEOD in house strategy games tend to work the same way due to AGE, but with details and processes added or removed according to situation or history. The AGE comes in three versions, the first a more traditional wargame, the second adding more diplomacy and logistics management and the third with grand strategy issues to contend with. I like the concept because I am interested in multiple periods of military history, and having to (unnecessarily IMHO) learn a new PC game campaign system if I want to play the Franco-Prussian War vice the Seven Years Wars is a royal pain in the firelock. AGE allows you to play all the games the same way, adding or subtracting aspects to insure period flavor both tasty and succulent. It’s almost like an auto stereo system where a radio only module can be pulled from the dashboard and a radio plus MP3 player slid right back into the same cavity to replace it.
WOS is just this type of game. Because it is a beta test, no game manual is included, so I just popped up Thirty Years War (which was made by another developer using AGEOD's engine) and went thru the tutorial as well as played a short campaign. I had this game on the shelf because of a multi AGEOD product special purchased from a bundle site on the Web. As I had not played the game before, I really didn’t know what to expect. Nevertheless, I found WOS played pretty much the same way, perhaps simpler, and only the historical environment had changed. By this I mean there were new unit types and new unit commanders, but more significantly a lot more fortifications damn near everywhere on the map. Seriously, this was the age of the Siege Master, a doughty French engineer named Marechal de Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. It was said that a fortress held by the man never fell and one besieged by him never stood. His geometry based star trace designs became THE way to build fortifications during the era, and there is no lack of star symbols on the map to remind you of that fact. Likewise, there is no strict chain of command or unit hierarchy when combining or creating combat formations, no divisions or corps and so on. This was the era where the regiment was the highest level of permanent military organization and commanders combined several into temporary groups depending upon resources, mission or if the Prince of Schnitzelstein’s son Hermann just needed a job. All of that is here in WOS, making it unique from other AGEOD offerings.
The game is simple, but this is a relative term. Games that cover this level of war are relatively complex overall due to the need to interject resource management into the equation. Despite this tradition, the AGE system impressed me as being pretty streamlined. For example, in very general terms the game is divided into turns that equal a single month of operations. During the turn the player performs any function he wishes in order he wishes at any time he wishes. This includes mapping routes of movement for leaders and the units they command, building new formations or allocating replacements, conducting reconnaissance, engaging in diplomacy, and pretty much anything else the King of France or the Tsar might want to do. Then you hit the Next Turn button and whatever activity you just planned begins to happen as a ticker counts down the days of the current monthly turn. This means that although you might have commanded Marshal Vendome to move from Strassbourg to Antwerp, for example, it may well take more than a month to get there. The next turn Vendome will continue to slog towards the city based on what you directed two or more turns ago. The player need not move the good marshal each turn as in most games of this ilk.
But here is the kicker that tickled my sabre. When you click the Next Turn icon, not only do your designated activities begin to function, but those of the opposing AI begin to do so as well. Yes, rather than reacting to what the player does, the AI performs its operations simultaneously with those of the player. Marshal Vendome may have a multi turn path to move to Antwerp, but could well be intercepted along the way and a battle ensues. Up pops a screen where the player can select a few tactical options, and then the software fights the battle and delivers the results. It’s called WEGO and it shows I’ve not been behind a keyboard gaming as much as I could have been lately. It implies the AI is planning operations independently of what the wetware in the chair is doing. Thus an unexpected engagement between Vendome and Austrian Prinz Eugen may well come as a surprise to the computer – is that even possible? – as well as the human player. Now obviously I’ve not swung a halberd lately or contracted with the locals for fodder, but my reading on the period indicates this is a very realistic way to simulate campaigning with Marlborough and Charles the XII. It places a premium on the ability to react and really elevates the suspense level of the game. I really like this, and amazingly, it’s all pretty much done in a very smooth drag and drop PC interface.
This kind of play is doable for many reasons, one being the very low density of military forces for an area so big. Another is because the game does a lot of the logistics management for the player, and I like that as well. The player is not relegated to deciding whether to produce potatoes or sugar snap peas in Normandy. The player does not have to call the local CPA to figure out the maximum return on investment when spending precious gold shekels to build infantry regiments, or maybe siege mortars, or perhaps two more 120-gun ships of the line. The computer keeps track of all resources for the player. Supply seems to be based on the logistics rating of the area where a combat formation currently resides, whether it is contested, whether it has been pillaged and whether supply convoys are present to make up the difference. Building new units is a snap. The computer keeps track of the current economic situation and each turn simply lets the player know what units are available to be formed and where they might be built if selected. Simply drag and drop the new unit from the list to the designated province authorized to build such formations or equipment, and the AI starts the process. Given that one of the reasons I normally don’t like games at this echelon of war is the Minister of Trade and Chancellor of the Exchequer requirement, this process seem to be a perfect balance of player involvement.
Yet, perhaps the process is just a little too simple logistics wise. This is just a gut feeling and again, remember this game is in the work in progress stage, but my overall feeling is that the logistics system relies a little too heavily on collecting supplies from the local area vice a formal supply line using a system of linked depots. The Thirty Years War was barbarism personified with over 8 million dead including civilians. In reaction the Age of Reason evolved to govern European political and military affairs. Well trained, well drilled and well equipped (and very expensive) standing armies became the norm, with a lavish supply system to preclude the need for plundering a province or sacking another Magdeburg. As I play the beta, I just didn’t get the feeling that was emphasized enough, though the final product might be different.
Other little things I noticed included the lettering for names of regions and provinces which seemed too small and somewhat difficult to read. Likewise, I wonder about the wisdom of using the original foreign language designations for many of the combat units depicted. I play the period in miniature, so I know Ejercito is Spanish for army and I know Irlandais is French for Irish, but I wonder if other more casual gamers will likewise. Finally, the soldier, cavalry trooper and artillery icons (not to mention the leader portraits, which are exquisite) are very well done, but often mislabeled and improperly colored. Thus the game depicts French Regiment Picardy and the Irish Brigade in royal blue uniforms, designating them as Guards. Picardie was actually a line unit (although as part of the Vieux Corps, a very old and elite one) that wore standard white-grey while the Irish (and Swiss) habitually wore red. This may be deliberate as both formations were certainly of extremely high quality, so showing them as part of the Maison du Roi implies elite and thus avoids confusing players. I hope the designers reconsider, perhaps the name of the game as well. After all there were the wars of Alexander the Great’s Successors and the Wars of Austrian and Bavarian Succession related to some minor royal named Frederick of Prussia.
Yet even here I am impressed. Most games at this level simply show a formation as infantry consisting of a certain number of strength points. Click on a leader and his stack of troops in WOS and a window pops up listing every regiment – by name – the army currently has assigned. Click on the icon for that regiment and another window opens showing the number of battalions, squadrons or companies. Here I am talking about an army that lists French Heavy Horse Regiment Colonel-General, Infantry Regiments Royal Deux Ponts (Koniglich Zweibrucken, yes German), Regiments Navarre and Normandie, even the individual companies of the famed Gendarmerie. My jaw nearly hit the table when I discovered this because . . . what a great miniatures campaign system this PC game would make! This is just the granularity tabletoppers would need to recreate a clash from WOS as a miniatures game using Captain General, TWIGLET or other fine rules. The coders simply need to include a switch to manually enter specified combat results into the software, and then let the campaign continue. What a coup that would be!
Otherwise, the game seems to work just fine, but does need some decent hardware or it does slow to a crawl. But hopefully the boss will ask for a few more of these articles and a final review upon publication. Until then me, Marshal Villars and His Twitness Elector Max of Bavaria are marching towards Vienna. And I am having one Hell of a fun time doing it.
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