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Wars in America Review

Wars in America Review

Review - posted by Burning Bridges on Sun 13 September 2009, 12:33:58


Review Wars in America

 

by: Christian Wendt (Burning Bridges)

Developer: AgeodWebsite: http://www.ageod.com/en

 
[ AGEOD (AGE Online Distribution) was founded by Philippe Thibaut (designer of historical videogames Europa Universalis, Pax Romana and Great Invasions) and Philippe Malacher (AGE engine creator) in 2005.[2] The first game distributed by AGEOD was Birth of America, a turn-based strategy game about the French and Indian War that took place in the Seven Years' War, and also the American War of Independence. The second game, Ageod's American Civil War, is also a realistic historical turn-based strategy game about the American Civil War including political and economic options. The third game, Napoleon's Campaigns, is the successor of “Birth of America” with a tight focus on strategy during the Napoleonic Wars. In 2008, AGEOD released Birth of America 2: Wars in America, which expanded the previous game Birth of America by a larger map, new rules, and new scenarios and campaigns. ] source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AGEOD

 

"I could end this war in weeks, if I could only get my generals to carry out their orders."

Robert E. Lee

 

Before I start

First of all - and not that I really need to mention this – this is not a game for everyone. People with low attention spans, who don't read, have no interest in history, board games, chess, or strategy games should stay clear.  It will not entertain or provide you with impressive visuals, it will only work if you have the images already in your mind.

Secondly, it takes some time to get into this, or any other AGE game. It's different to most other strategy games in that it does not give causal results, and rather simulates the options of a general commander, the problems that come with a chain of command. The system is based entirely on stats and formulas, but these are so complex that the outcome of many actions feels random and unpredictable, which can be a bit strange if you're expecting 100% causal mechanics. But in my opinion this is by design: you can give orders, but it will be your officers who carry them out, and there will be many times they simply screw up. A good way to play this system is to ignore the numbers and only use your intuition. If you do something stupid, you will probably know why it did not work, but something similar to real history will have developed before your eyes: a war with ups and downs. I don't want to delve deeper into this, but would it be possible to make a similar strategy game that hides  unit stats altogether, and instead lets you concentrate on roleplaying a general commander only?

Lastly, I am a big fan of Ageod games, so I cannot really turn out a completely unbiased review. Please keep that in mind while you read this article, while I will try to inform as best as possible and put my personal bias away. Confusing references to other games by AGEOD (especially American Civil War) are strewn all over this article. This is because there is a whole franchise of similar games based on the AGE engine, that I would very much like you to become interested in. Finally, I want you to download the demo after you read this.


What it is about

WiA is not a game about the American War of Independence only, but comes with a comprehensive list of 25 campaigns/scenarios. If you subtract the filler (cloned campaigns, pointless micro scenarios with 4-8 turns),  you still end up with two completely separate Grand Campaigns (with 100+ turns, each should keep you busy for at least a week) and three smaller ones with 30-40 turns,  which can be finished in two or three evenings. If you also consider that all campaigns can be played from several sides involved, this adds up to of game with quite extraordinary replayability value and scope. With this amount of content, WiA is an excellent bang for the buck.
 
1775-1783 American War of Independence (104 turns)
The War of Independence is of course the heart and soul of this game, and probably the campaign you want to start with.  It is, however, also the largest and most complex one, so if you want to learn how to play the game, it might not be a bad idea to start with e.g. the Bernardo Galvez scenario instead, which comes with less units and turns to worry about.

1755-1763 French & Indian War  (104 turns)
The complete French & Indian War, which could be a game in itself.  I find a very fascinating affair, which most people know from Last of The Mohicans.  If you read J.F. Cooper as a boy, here is the place to go.
 
1779 Don Bernardo Galvez (28 turns)
Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid (Count of Gálvez, Governor of Cuba and Viceroy of New Spain) defeated the British at Pensacola and reconquered Florida for Spain.

1791-1794 Northwest Indian War (44 turns)
The war fought between the United States and a confederation of Delaware and Shawnee Indians for control of the Northwest Territory, which saw the establishment of white man's rule in the Northwest.
 
War of 1812 (37 turns)
This campaign covers the 1812 war between the United States and Great Britain, from its start in Upper Canada to the last British expedition in New Orleans in 1815.
 
new game / available scenarios

 

Playing the game

WiA and it's siblings are very complex games, and trying to cover the whole system in a review would be sheer madness. So let me just concentrate on the most important facts: it is using a WEGO turn based system, meaning that you have as much time as you like to give orders during a turn, but when you end the turn they are carried out simultaneously with those of the opponent.

There are a lot of stats, special abilities, etc, influencing the results. But success in this game depends to a large part on the performance of your generals, and the proper use of so called command points (CPs). Generals provide a certain number of CPs according to their rank and leadership, whereas units have an associated command point cost, which they need to be properly led. If the CPs required by a stack exceeds those provided by all the generals in the stack, the force will be penalized by slow movement, reduced fighting strength, etc. So it can often be better to move unit without a commanding general, if the commander is not able to provide the CPs required. And I tell you, this is going to be the case much more often than you want, at least if you have the activation rule enabled.

This is not the type of game that lets you completely reshape history. There are lots of scripted historic events, but these are also somewhat randomized, and you also have a small selection of political options. So it would not be fair to call it a linear game. I generally think this is a system that gives me enough freedom to conduct operations, but also stays true to the historic context, and in that way is very educational. A nice side effect is that my geographic knowledge of North America increased hundredfold from playing this game.
 
historic events

The system is focused more on land operations. The naval part is abstracted and not one of its strong sides. Naval operations are present however, and they work very well in the frame of the game, especially with the way river transports and blockades become an essential part of gameplay.  This part could have been fleshed out more, but it's something that never bothered me.
 
naval units


Presentation

Something that I never grow tired of praising, is how the 2D graphics in all Ageods games are sharp and esthetic, and WiA is no exception here. The graphics for the prequel, Birth of America, were created by a talented artist, Sandra Duval, and I think it was her artistic style that drew me to the game in the first place. Unfortunately she left the company in 2007, creating some concern that Ageod would never be able to provide the same quality of graphics again. Fortunately, WiA still contains most of the assets that were created by her, and the work of Gilles Pfeiffer (the guy who has taken over from her) has reached the same high standards. Instead of just copying the graphics of the old game, he made a completely new, and very beautiful map that spans from the Hudson Bay to the Florida Keys, from Missoury and Louisiana to New England with all the  towns, wilderness, rivers you would expect. In my opinion, the map in WiA is the most beautiful in all games Ageod made so far, and it's not like the other ones were ugly.

While it has only 2D graphics, those absolutely shine. The engine has no problems with supporting all kinds of (wide)screen resolutions, resulting in absolutely crisp and sharp graphics and perfectly readable text. I think this resolution support deserves special mention as it is something that is absent from many niche developers' minds today, whereas Ageod have realized how this is absolutely crucial for a 2D strategy game.

Acoustically, the game is accompanied by a soundtrack consisting entirely of military marches, which are fitting the subject matter and time period. A lot of people praise the music to the heaven, but to each his own. We all have our own taste in music, and personally, the military music is annoying me. So I replace it with CDs running in the background, e.g. I like to play this to the soundtrack of Last of The Mohicans.

Something like a verdict

I said before that I am biased, because I really enjoy playing these games. In my personal opinion they are the most satisfying strategy games I own, period. But it's not like they are perfect, and they aren't for everyone either.

In comparison to AACW, WiA falls somewhat behind because it does not allow you to acquire units from a force pool. Building up forces was to a large degree what made AACW fun, and while I understand the reason this was not included in this game, it is still something that I miss.

In an attempt to stay true to history, WiA does not allow the forming of Divisions. The problem I have with this is that stacks can get very large and cumbersome. While it's true that Divisions didn't exist at the time, this should not serve as an excuse why the UI doesnt offer a better solution to manage large stacks. Then there are also some units that are permanently attached to a commander. Again, though this makes perfect sense from the historic point of view (i.e. private regiments paid by some german nobles), at least beginners will have a hard time figuring it out.

Something I noticed recently is that the scenarios feel somewhat railed. While the game offers lots of freedom in your decisions, on replaying the AwoI campaign I found that I used the same strategies, attacked the same regions, as in my first attempt. I would not hold this against WiA, especially since it has so many different campaigns, but it is one of the reasons why I prefer AACW.

It was AACW that brought me round to Ageod, and I prefer it for it's absolutely massive Grand Campaign that evokes the American Civil War like nothing else before. But I still like WiA very much. It offers a good compromise between the merciless scope of AACW and a more casual game, although calling it casual is quite a joke. In any case it is much easier to play and offers the best way to get into the franchise. If you become interested in Ageod games it is here where you should start, and then decide if you want to move to more complex titles like AACW.  For your information, in the coming year Ageod has several hot irons in the fire, first Rise Of Prussia, which leaves America and moves into my very own Prussian homeland and the 7-years war, then Vainglory of Nation, which is their most ambitious title so far, covering the whole Victorian era into WW1 on a map of the whole globe.

Well, what can I say. These games are complex and a bit tricky to get into.  My recommendation is to take at least a day to learn it, and approach this task a bit more seriously that you normally would with a game. But if you like long, massive campaigns, have an interest in the historic subject matter and are not daunted by complexity, you will hardly find anything better at the moment.

One last thing to fans of turn based gaming. An annoying truism of our time is that Paradox makes the best strategy games. But no matter how you think about this, don't forget: here is one pure, old-school turn based game, that will not force you into some strange real time system.

This already concludes the actual review. But it's not over yet. What follows is a reference section with information how to start playing the game. I had to learn this from the ground up, so it might be worth a read.

 



How to get started

I would actually have liked to cover more of the game mechanics, but I realized this would go way beyond the scope of a review. Instead I decided to give some simple but important tips for those people who download the demo, and need some directions where to start. I think these tips could prove very valuable since they will help you to get started and survive the crucial time when you will have no clue what's going on.

 

[1] Your units are strewn all over the place, so don't make the mistake and try to click on them one by one. Instead use E or R to cycle through available land units. You can also use Q and W to cycle through locked units. T or Y does the same for naval units.
 
[2] Understanding command points should be your first task. In order to do this, learn about commanders, stacks, and how to check command points and penalties. As a general rule, it is better to have several smaller stacks with optimal command points, than few large ones, and to use them for many small scale scale actions instead of concentrating your forces too much. To illustrate this, the following screenshots show examples of small forces that make use of optimal command and will be much more efficient than large superstacks with command penalty:
 
Example 1. In somewhat simplified terms, the typical 1-star general has 2 points, and can command 2 units. Such a force will not be able to win big battles, but it will be enough to move quickly, take and hold a strategically important position:
 

Example 2. This force with 4 CPs and less than 1000 men is small, but packs quite a punch. Especially as it is coming with it's own artillery and supply. It should either commanded by a 2-star general or, as in this particular example, by a 1-star general with additional bonuses.  Instead of a large superstack moving from province, it is such forces that will win the game for you:


 

[3] Your second most important task is to understand supply.  Learn about supply level in forts and towns, how to check a stacks ammunition, food and water state. Supply wagons provide a stack with it's own mobile supply of food, water and ammuniton, so you should never send out a large force without at least one supply wagon!

supply wagons
 
[4] Your third task is to learn about cohesion.  Cohesion represents morale, order and readiness to fight, and is the absolutely crucial factor in calculating fighting strength.  Cohesion does not represent losses and will diminish fast, long before a unit has seen actual combat. Especially moving through difficult terrain will quickly lead to disorder, and very often units are temporarily incapacitated by bad weather, lack of supply, etc. But it will recover just as quickly if you move to a fort / town that is reasonably supplied. No matter if it's clear what I just tried to explain, there is a very simple message: in no case should you ever start a battle without knowing about the cohesion level of your armies!

[5] There is this number the game shows next to units, and it represents the approximate fighting strength of a stack / unit. But often it is more insightful to hold the CTRL key while a stack is open: this will instead show the number of men, cannons and horses, which is more intuitive.

[6] There were hardly any roads in North America at the time, and winter weather can be harsh, so never underestimate the importance of terrain and weather.

[7] A lot of units are locked (permanent garrisons etc). So if you see the lock symbol, it means the unit cannot move during this turn, possible not during the whole campaign. Such units are still absolutely useful as garrisons.

Locked units/leaders

[8] All AGE games have a so called activation rule that is meant to simulate psychological effects: generals were often undecided or incapacitated for a while.  Stacks will be heavily penalized during the time a leader is not active. This is an important gameplay element, but unfortunately it can be frustrating for the beginner. So my tip is to disable the activation rule first, before you start learning the game (this can be done from the options / main menu). But make sure you have it enabled back if you want to play in earnest, since it is a very good feature.

game options / activation rule

[9] In the time period the game depicts, defensive tactics are usually stronger than offensive ones. So if you don't know what to do on the strategy side, simply form small to medium stacks, and try to maneuvre them into defensive positions (forts, towns) before your enemy. Then let him attack if he wants. Don't attack fixed positions yourself until you know whats going on, and have a decisive superiority in leadership, quality, and most of all, artillery.

[10] Make use of naval transports! Not only is it faster,  but units don't lose a lot of cohesion that way.  Land operations can be disastrous in terms of cohesion, but it turns out armies don't always need to march long distances on foot.  This is especially so as the British, which have a huge naval superiority and operate on exterior lines.  Don't forget that you can move naval transports also on rivers and lakes, which allows you to conduct operations in otherwise inaccessible areas.  The logical consequence of this is that one should concentrate on controlling towns which have a port.
 
Naval transport
 

The game has a huge number of additional facets, but if you start with the things I just said, I think you might stand a good chance to actually get into playing and enjoying the game, and not give up too early ..

 

Screenshots

a little dose of everyday racism: "this unit will pillage immediately every depot captured"

 

Military options
 
Understanding the numbers: National morale coefficient
 
Understanding the numbers: Foreign intervention level
 
Understanding the numbers: Engagement points

Special abilities examples
 
Special abilities examples
 
"Me no boom boom soul brother. Too beaucoup!"
 
 
The Last Mohicans
 

 


 
 
 
 

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