Archive for February, 2013

Welcome to my first post from my tablet. It’s typical really, I buy a new gadget thinking it’ll improve my mobile life, but to be honest I still before blogging and writing in general on my main PC at home. This keyboard is kind of small. Anyway – I’m not here to talk about my things, I’m here to talk about March of the Eagles, Paradox’s latest Grand-Strategy game set during the Napoleonic Era.

You can read more about my thoughts on the game in the review I did over on Strategy Informer. Essentially, it’s ok, not great, and is a far better multiplayer game than it is single-player. Seriously, I’ve been playing Paradox games for years, but I’ve been missing out not trying to take these games online more often, and March of the Eagles stripped down design and narrower focus means that everything is more immediate. As I mentioned in my review, a multiplayer session of Eagles reminds me a lot of the boardgame Diplomacy.

One of the issues I have with it though is how the game handles technological progression. Essentially, you learn more through losing. Now, I don’t mind the principle behind this – winning a fight simply reinforces the belief that your way is the right way, while losing forces you to look at how you do things and come up with a way of doing it better. In March of the Eagles, all nations get access to the same tech trees, which cover a range of areas from economy, to ship building, to Infantry and ‘Command’. The Great Powers also get an eighth tree which is unique to their nation. You earn idea points naturally every month, and if you fight and lose a lot of battles, your get bonus idea points and so can unlock ideas quicker. This does help redress the balance of power somewhat between strong and weak(er) nations, however it’s not perfect. To really earn enough idea points to make a credible difference, you essentially have to lose all your armies, lose a lot of sieges… essentially be taken to the brink of annihilation, and if you lose that badly, you’re essentially taken out of the game for a very long time.

Take Prussia, for example, the country I was playing as for the majority of the playtime for my review. I ended up fighting both France and Russia, which was essentially a fight I was never going to win. But that was ok, because I made it my mission to take as many of them down with me and psychologically wear both players down through attrition, hit and run tactics, and guerrilla warfare (or as close as you can come to it in a game like this). The thing is though there’s no scope in the game to reward behaviour like that. I really had to fight to keep my armies mobile, and alive, taking out a stack here, thwarting a siege there… in a move that was more troll than tactical, I sent one army into France via Austria just to take Paris, and then left again.

Man, this WordPress App sucks. And this keyboard is REALLY small.

I don’t mind so much that, as far as technological progression goes, there’s nothing gained through winning. Winning is the reward in itself, and your generals – whether they win or lose – get traits through combat which makes them more effective anyway. But I lost that war – 90% of my towns and forts were taken, and I lost most of my army in a stupid last ditch defence manoeuvre which even at the time I knew was a bad idea but I was pretty tired by this point, and wanted to see if I could defeat the Grand Army.

Anyway, despite losing all those sieges, and that one, last climatic battle, I didn’t earn enough points to even unlock a single idea, because I didn’t lose the “right” way. When you’re facing an enemy as numerically superior like France, and Russia to some extent, you don’t really want to get into pitched battles with them as you WILL lose. Yet because I lost it all in one go, instead of over a series of battles, I didn’t get the full extent of bonuses that losing battles get you.

My armies were in tatters, I had a massive manpower deficit to work through, and my nation was no more technologically effective than it was when I started. I was also essentially a non-entity for the rest of that session. Truces are locked in March of the Eagles, so I couldn’t declare war on anyone even if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to as I had to wait for my army to rebuild, which doesn’t happen quickly.

Forgive me if you think I’m whining – I had no problems with losing that war. I knew it was a no-win scenario and I was kind of proud at what I managed to achieve in the end – I annoyed the France and Russia players so much that I didn’t have to cede over that much territory, and they are now at war with each other because I gave each of them territory the other wanted. Revenge is sweet. The only things I was genuinely disappointed by was my own stupid decision to fight that last battle (It would have made rebuilding a lot easier if I hadn’t of done it) and the fact that I was unable to organise the other great powers into an alliance against France. Well, not one that lasted anyway – Russia started off fighting France with us, then truced out early and attacked me instead.

My issues with the technology system then are ones of design: the progression through loss thing is an interesting idea on paper, I just don’t think it was executed particularly well in this case, which is nothing in itself as there are a lot of things about March of the Eagles, as you’ll see in my review, that are not all there. It’s still a fantastic multiplayer experience though, and I’d recommend giving it a go.

Oh yeah, the Playstation 4 happened, didn’t it? I suppose I should talk about that at some point.

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Today I’m going to talk to you about Grand-Strategy games. I like Grand-Strategy games. Typically they can be lighter on things like graphics and visuals, but they possess so much depth and potential options that it provides a nice counter-balance. Plus as someone with an active imagination, I also get a kick out of visualising events in my head anyway. One of the leaders in grand-strategy is a company called Paradox Interactive, and they’ve got several key franchises, each focusing on a different theme. Hearts of Iron for warfare, Victoria for Economy, Crusader Kings focuses on the human aspect of ruling a kingdom and politics, and Europa Universalis is blend of everything.

I went to see them in Iceland recently, and they’ve got a lot of great titles in their line-up for these games – expansions for Victoria 2 and Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, March of the Eagles, a Hearts of Iron spin-off called East vs. West (Which looks amazing). You’ll be able to see my coverage of these games dotted around the place, mainly on Strategy Informer, but it’s caused me to have a bit of a relapse into some of the older games – especially Victoria 2.

Victoria 2 is in itself a bit of a paradox – essentially it’s a game that focuses on the industrial revolution, so the economy system is very robust. You have a detailed population interface, with everyone having different jobs and you have to make sure you provide for all their needs. You can open different types of factories, which all require different types of resources that you can either find from within your nation or export from elsewhere. This is backed up by a very hands-on political system, where you have different parties and philosophies that your people with vote on (some political parties, for example, won’t let you build your own factories, letting the private investors do it for you). There’s also the diplomatic stage, where you compete with other great powers to draw minor nations into your sphere of influence, which gives you priority over trade. Essentially, they didn’t want this game to be a wargame, like the previous title they release – Hearts of Iron III.

The funny thing is though, as the name suggest, the game is set within the backdrop of the late 19th century colonial era. The scramble for Africa is accurately represented through a colonisation interface, there are the eastern nations you can interact with, and there were a lot of wars during this period. The 1871 Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian-Austrian War, the Zulu war in South Africa… the game’s time span stretches all the way to 1935, so you’ve got the First World War in there as well. None of these events are prescribed in the game – there are tools and systems in place for such events to happen. It’s strange then that they’d focus the game so much on economy, during a time where there was a fair share of fighting. And it’s not like you can sit back and avoid the fighting either. In order to be a great power, you need to have high prestige, a good industry, and a large army, and an easy way to get prestige is to fight wars. The military side of things though is rather tame – you can build three different types of units – Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, and there are several variations you can get as you climb up the tech tree. (Tanks and Aeroplanes do appear very late in the game as well, although they don’t fit quite as neatly.)

Armies can be controlled by generals, and there are plenty of military techs you can research to make your military more efficient, but when it comes down to it a war is all about making sure your army stack is bigger than the other guys… like how Civilization used to be. At the time, it was a bit of a let down from the wonderful deep combat systems of Hearts of Iron III, and now, playing through it again, I can’t help but think it’d benefit loads from the developments made in March of the Eagles.

What I so like about Victoria 2 though is the long-term goals you can achieve. Crusader Kings II is good for this as well, in a way, as you can form De Jure Kingdoms and Empires eventually if you conquer/vassalise the right people. Victoria 2 has similar system in place for certain countries. Choose any of the Italian states, for example, and provided you can reach Great Power status you can work on bringing the rest into your sphere of influence (or just out-right conquer them), and then form the nation of Italy. Play as either Austria or Prussia (or any of the other German states, I think, although it’s much harder with them), and you can initially form the South or North German Confederation respectively, and then go on to create the German Empire. Austria also has the option to become Austria-Hungary, as it did in history. There are other ones as well for other key nations, some interesting, some not… Denmark or Sweden, for example can form an a-historical ‘Scandinavian’ nation, which I did once, although since the expansion it’s harder as you essentially have to fight Prussia for a particular territory, and you have to work really hard or get some powerful friends to become stronger than Sweden.

In my current play-through, I played as Prussia, with the eventual aim of forming Germany (going through a bit of a Germanic phase right now). The first step – forming the North German Confederation – is the easy part (relatively). You start with most of the key states under your sphere of influence; you only need to fight Austria (and maybe Denmark) for the rest. Provided you get your act together quickly enough, you can attack Austria before they have any chance of forming any decent alliances, and boom, North German Confederation. The hard part was forming Germany though, as the last few key provinces I needed were held by France, who is typically stronger than you, and in my game by the time I got around to looking their way, they had several key alliances which meant I would be fighting a war on multiple fronts. To my shame, I played a game where every so often, I’d start the war to see who joined which side (we shared several allies), and even play it out a bit to see how easy it would be… it didn’t work I, I reloaded to a save I made just before I declared war. Took a couple of goes and some more diplomatic shenanigans before I found a scenario that was favourable.

The ‘Great War’ of 1900-1905 (eventually, wars that contain multiple great powers are called ‘Great Wars’ in the game, to simulate the First World War)  was North German Confederation and my lackeys, Italy, Great Britain and perhaps a couple of others, versus France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Russia. It was the best chance I was going to get, and experience through fighting out the previous attempts gave me ideas to keep the Russians pinned on that front, allowing me to fully concentrate on the French. Essentially, the war boiled down to a massive dog-pile in Strasbourg, with two huge stacks going toe-to-toe for the whole war. Italy proved quite effective in fighting France in the south, while Great Britain kept the French navy at bay and also went for their overseas territories. I used what few stacks weren’t tied up to take out Belgium – which was harder than it should of been –  and support my allies whilst making a play for Paris. Eventually, the French army just broke, and it was only after I’d occupied all of their territories that they finally gave in. Three Cheers for Germany!

It was kind of interesting to watch the balance of power change after that – every nation on the losing side of a Great War has to ‘capitulate’, so they get rid of half their army, and other reparations as well. It removed France and Russia from the Great Power list completely, and at the time of wiring France is in the sphere of influence of The Netherlands, of all places. Russia is in the pocket of Austria, who I’ve just gone to war with as they’ve been sitting pretty gathering strength for too long. So far, the ‘Second Great War’ is going well for me.

All Hail the Fatherland.