Review: Vengeance03 Apr 2017 4
Jeff Lapkoff of Digital Gameworks is known for taking small but well-known battles such as Custer’s Last Stand, The Alamo and Rorke’s Drift and turning a new light of them with innovative mechanics. With Vengeance published by HPS, he takes on a millennia of battles covering the Dark Ages through the Renaissance. His only competition in turn-based gaming covering all of this period is Slitherine’s Field of Glory and John Tiller’s The Renaissance. Let’s do a comparison.
How Much Does Splash Matter?
Vengeance’s terrain graphics can be summed up in a phrase: shades of brown. Each of the twenty meter hexes have a different shade of brown – with the exception of the snow and ice in the Battle of the Ice - indicating elevation or vegetation. Scanty lines indicate simple grass and thick swirls indicate forests. Rivers are simple bold lines and roads are mere strings of dots. The waters around coasts are a nice blue while splashes of red appear on the ground when units are destroyed. These graphics do not approach the detailed bright graphics of the other two games but, once play has begun, the simplicity actually is a positive as players are not distracted by eye candy. Structures are well done when important to play. For example, a bridge exists in the Sterling Bridge scenario, unlike the scene in Braveheart (Note to Mel Gibson: I don’t care how many Oscars you got: get facts right!)
The picture brightens literally when unit icons are considered. Players can choose between boardgame counters or miniature-type icons. Each group or tribe has a different color on the counter with strength and morale values under a colorful silhouette of the combat type. The icons are faux 3D with the same colors and a simple figure of archers, swordsmen, spearmen, mounted knights and early cannon. Leaders have actual portraits on their counters. A side panel has nice illustrations of units’ coats of arms, weapons and armor. With no animation, the unit graphics are not as sexy as the ones in Field of Glory and The Renaissance. Sound effects are also lacking with only swishes to indicate arrow flights, thumps for hand-to-hand combat and trumpets for routs or rally attempts. The wind blowing in the background becomes irritating. The 49-page PDF manual does a fine job in describing the details of play.
Grouping the Mob
Where Vengeance shines and distinguishes itself is its great combination of detail and ease of play. Its 42 battles begin with two probably mythic battles featuring King Arthur in the sixth century. The verifiable clashes begin in the tenth century as the Saxons unite England. From there, the game covers all of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Teutonic knights and Slavs battle in the Baltic region; Crusaders fight their up-and-down campaigns in the Holy Land. Scotland is the scene for many medieval battles as is France during the Hundred Years War. In the Renaissance, the scene shifts to Northern Italy where France, Spain, the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire and various Italian city-states make sure Italy can’t unite for another three hundred years. Vlad Dracula battles the Turks while the English attempt national suicide during the War of the Roses. Formidable Swiss mercenaries make their appearance in the fifteenth century. The research into so many battles in terms of terrain, weapons and army status is impressive. Field of Glory probably has more medieval battles and The Renaissance has many more Renaissance fights, not to mention a branched campaign mode. However, neither combines both periods.
Units represent either twenty men or single leaders, The side panel has the usual values of strength, morale, action points, class and status along with the formation the unit is in. Units must be in its leader’s command range to be effective. Combat losses are shown in an on-screen log and anticipated results from close combat are shown at the bottom of the screen. Weather and terrain affects movement and combat. Combat effects are the common strength loss, disruption, rout and destroyed. So far, this game seems same-o, same-o. That conclusion is misleading.
All three games mentioned have many units. Moving and issuing orders to these troops individually is tedious. Lapkoff solved this problem elegantly and historically accurately. Troops are placed in groups as they were in the real battles. Usually, three “battles” are the norm but some scenarios have less and Renaissance battles have artillery as their own group. The side panel allows nine orders to be given to each battle group: advance, fall back, rally, hold, fire, charge, attack regroup and change formation. In addition, each group has standing orders on how they can attack, counterattack and react to missile fire. Thus, hundreds of men can be moved and engaged with just a few clicks. When lines meet, players have the option of ordering single units to maximize close combat odds. Games that would take hours under the normal mechanics can be done in forty-five minutes.
Combat details are fascinating. Groups can adopt the formations of close order, open order, shield wall or skirmish. Cavalry can be ordered to charge only to be mauled by caltrops. The rate of fire for archers depends on their skill so English longbow men can fire twice per turn while others only once. Cannon can take two or three turns to reload. Army morale checks are made after each side’s segment with possible results of men deserting and wings breaking. A battle report can be brought up to view the situation. Units can go berserk and charge madly, inflicting more damage but breaking formation. Battles are over when one side drops to its surrender point.
The AI is what the player makes it. At the beginning of the game, players chose the AI to be balanced, aggressive, cautious or “chaotic” meaning it can switch between cautious and aggressive at its whim. Players can also change weather, breaking point, visibility and leader replacement before beginning the battle. The game can be played solo, hotseat, PBEM or over the ‘Net.
With the 22.214.171.124 update, new vistas have opened. The Battle Planner allows not only editing of existing battles (like giving the French a break at Pavia) but also to create their own battles. St. Albans during the War of the Roses springs to mind. Anybody with imagination and a few sources can go wild.
Vengeance is an innovative and entertaining game that captures the essence of a period. To use a single engine to track the evolution of tactics over a thousand years while keeping play simple is an accomplishment that needs more attention. Head on over to the digital Gameworks or HPS websites and get ready to enjoy.