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Author: Greg Wild

Victoria II – The Verdict

Victoria II – The Verdict

The age of iron, steam and gunpowder! Of great games and nation building, peeling back the last curtains of the uncivilised world to shine with the glorious light of European enlightenment, while back home people and politicians forge national identities that stand into the modern day…

That’s what the history books would have you believe. They were wrong. So very wrong. Nobody really got much done. They were too busy mopping up Jacobins every time they fell from the sky. Whenever anyone tried to invade Iraq they were immediately taken up in arms against by raving packs of Anarcho-Liberals. The Tzar had a particularly hard time. By 1860 or so the whole Russian state was chequered with anarchist banners, shedding states in a desperate effort to maintain national unity. He’d have probably dropped more, but I don’t think they actually exist. At least the bleeding heart  liberals would be pleased with the complete European disinterest with Africa. Though who could blame them. It’s a big blank mass interspersed with those tribal groups cinema has been gracious enough to donate screen time to.

Victoria II then, is plagued with issues. First and foremost as I see it is the afformentioned intermittent Jacobin storms that rage around the planet. One of the major distinguishing features of Victoria II from Europa Universalis 3 or Hearts Of Iron 3 is the POP – a representation of social groups within your nation, and their concerns. Should you fail to sufficiently cater to the needs of your various POPs, and sooner or later the more militant POPs begin amassing, intermittently sprinkling your nation with stacks of angry rebels. Sure, the 19th and early 20th centuries were an age of such movements – the Paris commune, or the Russian revolution’s multitude of armed political groupings for example. But as Victoria II handles it, there’s little respite, and little strategy to defeating them besides periodically sending your armies on a roadshow when the clouds break. Unless you’re the AI. The AI just cannot cope with these rebel movements; I saw Russia basically all but taken over – the rebels don’t actually seem to be able to take over a state, even if they’ve captured most of the lands. Mexico is basically awash with enemies. Curiously, both nations were still in the top 8 of the leaderboards, which seems to indicate another of Victoria II’s problems: The economic side is too easy.

In the 80 or so years – game time, mercifully – I played through my campaign as Sardinia-Piedmont, later Italy, I scarcely once hit a major budget problem. It’s just too easy to keep accumulating funds once you’ve got set up. In 50 years I didn’t once have to public spending, or touch taxes. I might have had it a little easier because I opted to go with Laizez-Faire economics, meaning you don’t have to build factories, instead leaving it to the whims of the free market and it’s capitalist champions to lay down the capital… even so, it’s just too easy. The result was seemingly a budget that basically never went into the red, besides the odd dip – a minor blip – when I needed to raize new particularly large armies. My grand railroad scheme to cover the whole country in tracks scarcely dented the books. I literally couldn’t spend fast enough, and evidently other nations were not struggling despite their economies allegedly coming under siege by militant factions.

The opposing AI doesn’t put up much of a fight either. The early half of my campaign – the unification of Italy – put up a little challenge, requiring me to carefully time my military acquisition of Austrian held territory with wars against an ascendent Prussia, later Germany, while slowly acquiring the allegience of the rest of the peninsula. This was quite fun; until it became clear that the Jacobin invasion of Austria had ended their hope of halting my aggression and I sailed into statehood, putting Austria underfoot, to boot. Awash with money, I had little to do but accumulate armies and ponder where to go next. Skimming over to Africa I quickly notice that – despite it being 1870 – scarcely one change had been made to the political borders in Africa south of the Sahara, and only token efforts north – mostly by the French. It gets worse. Britain seemed disinterested in it’s Imperial mission, doing little more than slowly accumulating allies worldwide. Enough to keep it number 1, granted, but not much else besides the occasional invasion of China. Resigning myself to boredom, I slapped a quick invasion force together and conquered Iraq, only to find those wiley Anarcho-Liberals there too.

All these weaknesses come all the more bitter because there’s a lot of potential in Victoria II. In depth politics adds a refreshing dimension to shaping your ability to influence affairs compared particularly with Hearts of Iron 3, requiring you to attempt to meet -or reject- your citizen’s clamour for political or social reform as the game progresses. I particularly enjoyed the diplomacy game, especially during the afformentioned unification of Italy, requiring you to compete against the other great powers for influence – and thus power – over lesser nations. If the game lived up otherwise, I could certainly see myself enjoying a campaign as one of the powers competing in the great game for Afghanistan and Persia. The economics focused heart of the game certainly shows some potential, requiring you to decide on – or indeed, have elected- the economic principles guiding your nation, and focusing your acquisitions on economic goals – the sub-par balancing however means it’s rarely taxing enough. There’s a lot of promising features added to Victoria II that definitely show it has potential.

All said, in it’s current state of release however, Victoria II is a weak offering. The extent of it’s failings is demonstrated quite clearly by a stickied thread on the official forums pointing out fan made fixes, which certainly demonstrates what a sorry state of affairs it is in. It will be made all the more galling when Paradox inevitably release patches masquerading as expansion packs maps a few months down the line. It’ll be a particular insult if they charge for a complete political map / mechanics for Africa. I hope things improve. As any Paradox game however, it seems we must wait a year and a gold edition down the line before it’s any fit state to play.


Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon – The Verdict

Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon – The Verdict

“The greatest king Europe has ever known” extolled the busy-bodying Theopompos of Chios in one of the more positive moments of his fragmentary and conflicted 58 book biopic of Phillip II of Macedon. Yet games, books and films alike generally relegate to the far less magnanimous footnote “(father of Alexander the Great)”. Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon seeks to readdress this gross understatement.

You see, Alexander wouldn’t have been able to undertake his romp through Persia if Daddy hadn’t built the army – and the state – that made it all possible. Before Issus and Gaugamela there was nearly 30 years of Phillip II bit by bit transforming the chaotic status quo in Greece through the subtle diplomatic arts of drunken homoerotic partying and polygamy when people were willing to play ball, and at the tip of a few thousand 15ft long pikes when they weren’t. Hegemony primarily focuses on the business end of things, i.e. poking those long shafts in someone’s direction until they submit to you, Phillip, as Hegemon of all the Hellenic peoples.

Starting off in 364BC, the Kingdom of Macedon is in a bit of a sorry state. The glorious progress made in the days of Archelaus I have long since passed in the face of repeated leadership contests and invasions from the north. The house of Argeads has lost it’s grip over much of Macedonia, and your first task as Regent is to begin reclaiming lost territory in Lower Macedon.

It starts off on a deceptively small scale; your single unit of Companion Cavalrymen, and a couple of towns and farms. Towns create units, and are the basic administrative settlements, while farms produce the food which you need to keep your men smiling – without it they’ll far more easily flee in battle. You connect them with roads to create wealth. Next comes combat.

It takes a more hands off approach than say, Total War: the battles are mostly won on the strategic level over the tactical. There’s some scope for formations and holding back reserves, but it’s a visibly strategic system over tactical; least of all down to scale, which takes Hegemony into a sort of half-way between Total War and a Paradox game – small units of men represent whole regiments. You generally win battles because you’ve picked the right force disposition and kept them well fed. I dare say some will find it lacking; without enough of Total War’s pageantry and display for those hungering for battles of it’s ilk will not find it here, while those who revel in grander strategy over tactics may find the level of micromanagement taxing, or just an irritation, particularly when you’re handling a campaign in one region and minor conflicts throughout your kingdom. Hammer that pause button.

Expansion and progress are directed through a fairly loose narrative set of missions. As you scout around the map, pillars representing steps towards hegemony lay out specific objectives that must be met in order to progress and accrue bonuses – catapult building scholars and extra wives for example. It’s entirely up to you which order you complete the objectives, giving you a fair amount of freedom to plan campaigns.

And plan them you really do have to. Early forays of acquisition don’t require too much forethought; a unit of phalangites alongside the Companions is usually enough. But as you expand, your available pool of manpower means you have to balance your forces between defensive garrisons and those you allocate for a campaign while cities gradually become tougher nuts to crack. It’s no good just to beat off the defenders and capture the settlement – you have to seriously begin targeting their food supplies, and protecting siege catapults while whittling down their defensive forces bit by bit. All the while making sure your men have enough food to keep their fighting spirits up. To date, I think it’s the only strategy game that really understands the logistics and economics of the ancient Greek world, and I’d love to see the game expanded to other states – the Peloponnesian War for example would be a magnificent challenge from both the side of Athens and Sparta.

What really puts the icing on the cake for me with Hegemony is the sheer attention to historical detail Longbow have put in. I studied Ancient History for my undergraduate degree, and my chief “specialism” was in fact Macedon (as well as Thessaly and Epirus, who to my joy feature in Hegemony). Philip II is a confusing man to follow; his incessant campaigning, and the sheer number of people who made up his friends and enemies (who all of course have similar or the same names) mean understanding what exactly was happening, when, and where is no easy feat. First and most apparent is the fastidious attention to the map design. The sheer number of cities, in the most obscure regions of the ancient Greek world is a major achievement, and I think an utterly invaluable educational tool in fact; what I would have given to have it three years ago! Furthermore, pretty much every unit, character and city in the game is documented in an encyclopedia. All these details, combined with the semi-linear narrative structure means Hegemony is pretty much the best tool for understanding Phillip II’s world I’ve come across.

I would say it would be nice with a little more detail in certain aspects – wives and scholars, while a nice touch are in a way basically power ups. Similarly, companion generals are mostly just there to tack on bonuses to units. It would perhaps be nice if these characters required a little more management – besides the strategic genius, some of the most interesting aspects of Phillip’s life was the sheer character of his retainers. Once you’ve “escorted them to Pella”, wives don’t really feature too much – in reality, the court tension between his (6!) wives lead to very real sources of weakness, especially when it came to the matter of succession. Not that I could suggest how to put this in game admittedly, it would just certainly be nice to see more detail on the home front. Certainly if Longbow were to take Hegemony to the Peloponnesian War, it would be impossible to accurately portray either Athens or Sparta without some degree of representation of the inner tensions within their respective political orders back home.

All said, Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon is probably the most in depth ancient world strategic simulator on the market. It’s superbly detailed and educational – I’m in half a mind to point it towards my former lecturer in Macedonian history. It takes a keen understanding of ancient Greek strategic quandaries, and applies them in a challenging and entertaining format. While the slightly skewered scale of combat might not find a particularly happy middle ground, it’s solid enough to keep the game afloat.

Any game with this much historical depth, character, and challenge is a must buy for any discerning historical strategic gamer.

Shattered Horizon – The Verdict

Shattered Horizon – The Verdict

It’s probably not to Shattered Horizon‘s advantage that us fleshy meat bags need a large space-time bending rock to get on with life. Because I guarantee your first hours will mostly be characterized by long, silent “noooooo”‘s as you spin off starfish style into space, whether thanks to more skill endowed astro-bastards, or your own sheer incompetence.

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