Review: Field of Glory II12 Oct 2017 1
Review: Field of Glory II
Released 12 Oct 2017
BLUF – Bottom Line UP Front. Yes, Field of Glory II (FOG2) from Matrix-Slitherine Games is not only well worth while, but especially when compared to the first edition and other competing products, an absolute must buy. Is it perfect? From a personal preference perspective, no, due to one surprising issue. Nevertheless, this computer game in many respects remains definitive. Derived from the historical miniatures wargame rules of the same name by Richard Bodley Scott and last published in 2012, the game is not only easy to play and accurate, but stands as the ultimate example of how to port tabletop gaming into a PC environment.
Let me tell you why....
On the Road with Marius Mule
The hardware specs for FOG2 are not great, but you likely won’t be able to run it on something like an office workstation with integrated graphics. I tried and found the mouse to be very slow and unresponsive, often wiggling its way down the lane even when the button had been released to stop it. My rig in the basement however, the Cray supercomputer wannabe, had no issues. Officially you will need Win 7, 8 or 10, a 2 GH processor, 4 GB RAM, 2 GB hard drive space, a DirectX sound card and a 1 GB DirectX 9 video card (2 GB is recommended). Meet those requirements and the game runs smoothly and fast, with no stuttering or pausing.
The intro screen is an attractive dark green displaying an ancient mosaic of two warriors while in the center is a menu for a Tutorial (highly recommended), Battles, Campaigns, Multiplayer, an Editor as well as the obligatory Quit button. The campaign system is centered on the rise of Rome, and allows players to generate battles via the progress of four specific generals of the era. These include Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Mithradates of Pontus and Pyrrhus of Epirus. Otherwise the other buttons are pretty self-explanatory as to function with the exception of the Battles compartment where the real fun begins.
The Battles menu includes the following options – Fight Now, Quick Battles, Custom Battles and Epic Battles. The first in the list simply allows the computer to pick a battle and side for you at random so you can begin to swing spathas and cleave heads as quickly as possible. Quick Battles allow you to choose a side, at which point the computer will give you a list of historical enemies. Choose one, and the PC will allow you to choose from a list of historical wars where the two sides fought. Custom Battles builds upon this once more but allows you additional options as to the types of forces fielded, as well as modifying the type of battle, its location and terrain, the size of the armies, the size of the maps and whether you will purchase friendly units for your own force mix, or accept the computer’s default. Epic Battles are actual historical engagements such as Magnesia in 190 BC which saw the Romans and Seleucids strut their stuff. There are actually 45 nations in the game, with 75 different Army Lists. You can choose everyone from Celts to Indians and even Spartacus’ Slave army.
When battle is accepted, you will often have the option to augment your army by “purchasing” various types of units, and then redeploying what you have within certain parameters. The battlefield is no longer hexagonal, but uses square tiles instead. After that play is sequential and quite easy. Each tile contains one unit with each soldier figure representing 60 men. Click on the tile and not only will an info box pop up, but also all of the tiles where the unit may move become shaded. Right click on the destination tile and a couple or three icons will pop up giving you options for movement and so on. Choose one and your Celtic warband trundles its way to its new location. At the end of the movement, you can go thru the click process once more and shoot arrows, sling martiobarbuli, darts or whatever at any enemy within range. If your destination was occupied by an enemy unit, melee occurs and is adjudicated. In both cases small numbers appear above the fight indicating losses in men, and also indicating if an additional result such as disruption occurs. Then your opponent fires back with any eligible units, ending your turn and moving to his.
If this sounds familiar, it should. Perhaps the biggest change with this second edition from the first is the adoption of the same game engine as used by both Pike & Shot and Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun. Given Steam tells me I’ve logged over 400 hours with those two games, I’m a pretty happy camper with this development. Nevertheless, while the body style may look the same, under the hood the engine has been modified to not only reflect the nuances of ancient warfare, but also the unique game theory and supporting processes of the original miniature game as well.
Perhaps the biggest example of this is in the use of Points of Advantage (POA) as the foundation of the combat system. Remember that both Pike & Shot and Sengoku Jidai involved opposing armies that – in general – were composed of troops with similar armor, weapons, organization and capabilities. Not so in the ancient world where infantry heavy Roman armies engaged the super heavy cavalry of the Parthians, or where pilum met phalanx when Pyrrhus came calling in Italy. FOG2 uses the almost ubiquitous ancients’ wargame concept of subtracting or adding die roll modifiers depending on the type of weapons, armor, formation, with or without shield status and training of all units involved in combat. In this case the modifier is expressed in POA with 100 POAs equivalent to a 33% change in the odds for victory. POAs are also awarded for such things as terrain and whether a general is present (50 to be exact). For example, infantry armed with darts and light spears get a + 66 POA when engaged with charging armored foot or heavy horse, but a +100 POA against any other troops type. Better armor will get you +50 POA while defending heavy fortifications weighs in at + 200.
Obviously the computer takes care of all these calculations for you behind the scenes, but unless you know your ancient warfare, this might be one of those times where you really want to take a look at the Impact and Melee POA charts from the manual. While I know that slinging unarmored light cavalry with javelins against a heavy armored shield wearing phalanx toting a 20 foot sarissa won’t get you any “atta boys” from the boss back on the throne, others may not.
There are other things as well. Cohesion checks are not only mandatory for units in combat, but also nearby units within two tiles under certain circumstances. Ranged weapons now have ammunition limits expressed in numbers of turns, while the typical and free 45 degree turn during movement may not be available if outside the command radius of a general. Fortunately, when a unit is selected his tile will be darkly shaded if it is in command and believe me, if it’s not the results can be substantial. And there will also likely be a bunch of other tiles with units that suddenly pop up sporting a gold border indicating all these lads are part of the same command. Now this is a nifty thing to know because the game allows all the units in the same command to turn or move as a single, large formation if outside a certain distance to the enemy. Most excellent.
When the Toga makes the Man
The graphics in the game are over the top improved from the original FOG. Unlike Pike & Shot and its Japanese kin, the authors have chosen to make the computer game mimic the look of a FOG2 miniatures game. This means that while each tile (think movement stand on the tabletop) hosts one unit, the number, ranks and deployment of the 3-D figures in that unit will vary as to type. I thought I might not like this as much, but zooming in proved me wrong. The troops represented are spectacular with crisp, sharp lines, anatomically correct bodies and precise, smooth animation. Clothing and weaponry is correctly, if a bit vividly, displayed, with variations as appropriate to type. All warriors, not to mention terrain, have shadows. Here I am not just talking about Britons having varying dress, shields and weapons, but also regular troops such as Greek hoplites or phalangites having varying shield patterns within a uniformly clothed formation. I found the number and size of the vexilla style standards a bit obtrusive, but I can live with that.
The maps are also far better than in the first edition, and quite honestly way better than anything I’ve seen on a tabletop game of FOG2. The style is no longer generic, but follows the textured look used in Sengoku Jidai and Pike & Shot, very accurate and realistic. It looks like a pewter tabletop, and a damn good one at that, pretty close to the actual turf in question. Yet here is my only criticism of the game, although it’s a personal preference issue to be sure. The map features are . . . I dunno . . . dinky, small or something like that. Seriously, if a Roman Triarii is placed next to a tree or Celtic hovel, the warrior towers above both. It looks like Zeus released the titans from Tartarus to man the legions of Rome, because otherwise Dobby the house-elf couldn’t fit into even a temple. Fortunately, with all the Epic Battles in the game this is not a problem as in many cases the terrain is devoid of any features at all. Ancient armies tried to pick battlefields where they could maneuver their cumbersome formations, and in many cases historians don’t even know where exactly the fight took place much less what the real estate looked like.
In conclusion a final note. The games I played nearly always saw a slugfest until one side broke en masse and the slaughter began. This is what the tabletop game tended to portray and I am told, how it was for most of the ancient military era. When this sort of realism is fused with all of the above, this makes FOG2 a must buy, with maybe a Roman triumphus in order as well. And as for me, looks like Steam will be recording a couple hundred hours more of game play.
Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant!