Clad in Iron: Carolines 1885 Review14 Oct 2019 5
Clad in Iron: Carolines 1885 Review
Released 26 Aug 2019
The Clad in Iron series continues to defy both easy categorization and my own attempts to come to terms with it. There is really nothing like it in the wide world of PC wargaming. Whether or not that statement means something positive to you depends wholly upon how invested you are in mid to late 19th century naval warfare, and how willing you are to let a dated UI slide.
If you’ve tried any of Totem’s recent releases, you’ll have a general sense of what to expect from their new DLC Carolines 1885. Those just dipping their toes into the world of steam and iron would be better suited sticking to the base game, Clad in Iron: Philippines 1898, or perhaps one of the earlier games.
Set during a fictional clash between a declining Spanish Empire and the colonial ambitions of a rising Germany, Carolines 1885 releases players into the seas around the Philippines and the islands of Micronesia to engage in a short-range knife fight over 24 turns. It’s far too short a campaign to allow for the purchase of new ships, so you’re stuck with the small squadrons you start with. The Germans have better trained crews, but the Spanish have more ships and more garrisons to throw away on this utterly pointless waggling of imperial bits.
The horrors of distant colonial conflicts aside, Carolines 1885 does exactly what is says on the tin. It offers a brand-new scenario for the already very good (if you’re into that kind of thing) Philippines 1898. Despite some issues that persist since my first exposure to the series back in 2017, this new and quite exciting campaign forced me to really think about where to place my few ships and made the mad struggle to keep them afloat all the more tangible.
It is a relatively simple campaign. The map contains several island groups of the Philippines and nearby Palau, Yap, and Guam. As the Germans, struggling to push your cruiser squadron to the limits, you’ll have to balance picking off Spain’s gunboats and frigates against protecting your own vulnerable warships. The Spanish game, on the other hand, is a matter of hunting down and clobbering as many of the Germans as you can before attrition forces caution. It’s a straightforward style of gameplay, but it does enough to keep the turns interesting and to give the battles weight.
Now to the actual mechanics of it. Carolines 1885 does not differ from the standard Totem template. This includes the continued use of a spartan UI and simple system of clicking on a ship, then clicking on where you want it to go. This can be a little jarring for first time players as they realize that there are no limits beyond the draft of different ships. (You can’t stick your 4800 ton displacement cruiser in Palau’s shallow harbour, for instance). This gives you a great deal of strategic freedom but also makes it difficult to formulate different strategies, as enemy ships will be responding to your placements regardless of who you play as. The skeletal UI also hinders a new player’s ability to learn. There is no order of battle that I could find. To learn what I had within my squadron I had to hover the mouse over each ship on the strategic map and use the pop up that appeared to learn tonnage, guns, and upkeep costs.
While the strategic map is still a bit decrepit , Totem has upped the visuals within the (much more important and exciting) tactical battle. Carolines 1885 offers gorgeously rendered torpedo boats, gunboats, cruisers, and frigates, each lovingly rendered in 3D. While I personally don’t like the static crewmen, I can appreciate how they help represent how these ships were operated and seeing guns bounce back with recoil is a nice touch. The lighting effects are great, and I often found myself enjoying watching my squadron’s movements as they turned this way and that to get as many guns on the enemy as possible.
Thankfully Totem games offer two levels of interactivity for the tactical battles. For those who are happier to focus on steering (done from the lead ship and followed by AI controlled others in the line) there is an automatic firing for which you can control shell types, angle of fire, and whether to loose full broadsides. For the more intense, you can take control of every gun for manual firing as you see fit. This is almost a necessity for torpedo’s, but the automatic aim served me well for the duration.
While the squadron battles are exciting, the fights over supply lines, which are restricted to single ship engagements, can become a little tiring after a while. Totem games offer a real time and fast option, but I found myself wishing there was a third for wrapping up these engagements without having to rely on the roll of the dice of the auto resolve feature.
Overall, this game offers nothing mechanically new from Totem, and the UI still needs a total overhaul, but Carolines 1885 gives you exactly what it promises: a new and exciting campaign set during an unexplored hypothetical conflict between two asymmetric powers that allows you to ogle beautiful steam ships and command squadrons across a bright blue sea.
I’m happy with it, and am looking forward to what Totem will come out with next.