Field of Glory: Empires - Persia 550-330 BCE Review21 May 2020 1
Field of Glory: Empires - Persia 550-330 BCE Review
Released 21 May 2020
They called him “The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World”. This was Cyrus the Great of Persia, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, an ancient superpower of 35 million souls across 2.1 million square miles. Despite what a bare chested Gerard Butler at Thermopylae might suggest, you don’t own that much populated real estate without excellent leadership, competent administration and a tough as nails military to back it up.
Thus, I’ve always had a special place in my wargamers’ heart for Achaemenid Persia, to the point of penning a feature article in Wargames Illustrated on Cyrus and his conquests. So when the boss says, “How’d you like the review code on the new Field of Glory Empires DLC covering the rise of Persia?” Well, hot damn.
First, however, some preliminaries. This article does not cover how to actually play the game. First, almost nothing has changed in this regard, such as the sequence of play, how to move armies, how to manage resources and the like. Second, we’ve already looked at this angle before, so if you are a recent recruit, check out my review on the baseline product I did for Wargamer back in July last year.
Instead the Persia DLC gets most its Drachma’s worth from changing the stadium when and where the game is played, and not the rules of the game themselves. Nevertheless, there are some tweaks to insure this addition stays faithful to the history of 550 – 330 BC, and some have major consequences. By this I mean things like resources and Regional Decisions have been customized not only to fit the era, but also specific factions. An economic decision that works well in Lydia might be ineffective elsewhere, and some are only available to one country.
Here Persia is the prime example, whether meddling in Greek politics or efficiently exploiting resources in conquered lands by coopting the previous administrative into the new government via the famous Satrap system. Likewise, most of the big factions in Asia Minor seem very brittle, with some provinces falling to Persia for seemingly no reason at all, while entire kingdoms can surrender when the capital falls. This accurately reflects Cyrus' uncanny ability to take advantage of court politics and convince the local population to betray their king with promises of a better future. But this does not always make things easy for the chap behind the keyboard.
If you play Persia – and you really should play Persia – what happens could result in some unexpected challenges. When I played Rome in the base product, a deliberate, planned, and methodical approach always seemed to work best for conquest. Picking up one or two enemy provinces per turn was very manageable. Not so with Persia, as you can acquire several foreign provinces in a single turn, though you weren’t necessarily at war with or had armies near them. Consider, a single province Iranian Independent plus the entire Kingdom of Elam with three provinces becomes part of Persia by the player doing nothing. Likewise, one turn and one extra province after capturing the capital of the Median Empire, the entire country shows up on your royal doorstep and says, we quit, we belong to you, feed us. That’s 30 provinces added in a single turn, and next turn seven independent Iranian provinces join them. So, you come to a dead stop to execute a complete overhaul of your entire socio-economic and political infrastructure to deal with this population explosion, but you must also continue marching to subdue Lydia and Babylon before they combine forces against you. Well Cyrus did pull it off, so got a calculator?
Yet the big thing is the geographic environment, the aforementioned stadium and its playing field. For one, don’t think that because the DLC has Persia as part of its title this game only concentrates on that piece of real estate. No. The Persia DLC has every square cubit of turf the original game had, simply modified to reflect the political situation two centuries prior. Persia is one of the big factions, but so are Sparta, Athens and Macedonia, not to mention Carthage and Rome. Rome? Yes, Rome. You can actually play Rome as a great faction when it was a small client state of the Etruscans ruled by the King Servius Tullius and then his assassin son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. But by extension this also means as Persia you need to monitor the situation everywhere, no matter how far flung, lest your Immortals somehow bump heads with Roman phalanxes.
Then we have the local geography the Persians must deal with. Here a good place to start would be the Movement Overlay of the entire game map followed by a few other overlays and a province by province examination. The land of Cyrus is rough terrain and traversing this real estate can be particularly daunting. You’ll see a lot of Persian provinces, even small ones, with a movement penalty of “6” (even a couple of “8s”) all congregated together, whereas good flat terrain usually requires only two movement points. It also means a lot of these same provinces, many physically large, have low population, forage, and resource production values. Thus, while the Achaemenid Empire may be a powerhouse on paper, its strength is not concentrated where it can be easily gathered for war. Remember, 2.1 million miles square?
Such harsh conditions logically influenced the Persian military, and their armies were far different than either those of the Greeks or the Roman Republic and Empire. Here you will find an army that is extremely bow and arrow heavy, and a military doctrine designed NOT to engage in melee with the enemy. The backbone of the army was the Sparabara (shield bearers on translation) infantry which consisted of a row of infantry armed with a six foot spear forming a shield wall, behind which nine rows of archers could unleash pointed projectile Hell upon the enemy. Historians record a Persian 10,000-man division (Haivarabam) could fire 100,000 arrows per minute and keep doing so for several minutes, so this is nothing to look at lightly. However, as the Persians expand westward, they will eventually run into Hellenic Lydia and this means Phalanxes with heavily armored Hoplites whose sole function is to butcher their opponents up close and personal. The Persian solution is to buy mercenary Hoplites, but obviously this costs money, from taxes, from a lot of very sparsely populated provinces. Sure, you get it, and remember, you have to act quickly lest the Lydians, Medes and Babylonians form an alliance against you.
All of this seems to mandate a go for broke 'Blitzkrieg' type of military strategy, Achaemenid style. I tried that with Republican Rome in the original Field of Glory: Empires production, and it did not work well. Here with Persia, however, the environment in which the game is played drives a Persian player to do exactly this. Again, think of a grid iron football game. The rules are the same but playing in the home field of an archrival that stresses rushing over passing may well require a different playbook. This is the puzzle the King of Kings must solve.
Obviously, you could game as Rome, Carthage or Macedonia, but I really think that misses the point. You won’t notice a lot of difference in your decision-making cycle or management style than with the original product. I did start a game as the King of Rome, but it just didn’t seem to float my Trireme as it were. But when playing Achaemenid Persia, I was introduced to an entirely different concept of Grand Strategy, one that continues to be fun yet exceptionally intimidating. It seemed far more non-military centric, giving me a particular appreciation of Cyrus as an administrator. After all, Cyrus is the only non-Jew in the Bible to receive the title of Messiah (Anglicization of the Hebrew Mashiach, or Anointed One), a direct reference to his genius as a ruler domestically, apart from his reputation as a battlefield captain.
Bottom Line: The Persia DLC does an excellent job of wrapping all of this into an historically accurate and challenging simulation. It does so without new rules but instead puts the player into an unfamiliar strategic landscape and demands he think outside the proverbial Greco-Roman wargaming box. I did, still not finished, and am enjoying the experience immensely.
So, if you will pardon me, I need to return to my game. There is a temple in Jerusalem that needs to be restored, and Babylon seems to be in the way.