Well, wargamer.com’s Renaissance man is back with once again another non-tabletop article. This time the subject is AGEOD’s just released operational level PC game English Civil War: A War without an Enemy, or simply ECW. No matter, as the subject is pre 1915 and after all, I am an officer (Webmaster) of the UKs Pike & Shot Society so I do have some serious interest in the period. My verdict is pretty simple; this is a solid game, especially for beginners as the conflict simulated was relatively small in terms of both real estate and the size of armies that took the field. And with a price of $ 19.99 US, yes, this is a game you should pick up, but with a small bit of caution due to a hardware related caveat that I’ll discuss in due course.
Discharge ye firelocke.
While ECW is a very detailed game, it is not one that is particularly hard to play or learn. Only a general overview can be given here, but suffice it to say it is an area based simulation using a colorful, period styled map with a drag and drop interface. In my opinion it has some of the best designed unit and leader icons ever for a game at this level of way, featuring small leader portraits or soldier types with some information bars. NATO symbology doesn’t have symbols for pikes, and the tiny tanks shooting from hex to hex found in other games seems juvenile to me. The ECW system just looks classy IMHO.
While not often mentioned the music is absolutely top notch and the game actually lists the title of each track at the top of the screen. It’s not music from the period, and this is a good thing. I actually have some military marches from that timeframe and the only word I can think of is “dainty.” This stuff seems like Two Steps From Hell epic trailer music garnished with the soundtrack from Cromwell. I have a good 70 digital albums in my collection, so you wanna guess what’s going to be 71?
Otherwise, the game is typical operational fair in many respects. The idea is to gain Victory Points or tank your adversary’s National Morale thru the capture of his territory or destruction of his army. Friendly forces are built, reinforced or replenished in friendly territory where the computer AI will inform you what units are available to be built and what locations have the necessary resources to produce each. Units are commanded by leaders and the drag and drop interface allows them to split into separate forces, combine, move from area to area and fight battles. Supply is based on area specifications as you might expect, and there are historical events that pop up from time to time that may alter gameplay. It’s pretty standard stuff.
In fact, this game really doesn’t have a whole lot new or revolutionary going for it when compared to other titles in the series, but this is a good thing. A common system makes other games a snap to learn and play once you’ve mastered one title, and it’s always a danger to redo something just to be different. That’s especially true here as the software engine driving AGEODs game has some very unique ways of doing business that should not be changed as regards gameplay.
First is the fact that the units portrayed in the game are not generic infantry or dragoons and the like. Instead the units portrayed are the actual named regiments that fought in the conflict, specifically calculated for current roll call strength and a maximum fill. So, no, you won’t see just heavy horse, but Commissary General Bartholomew Vermuyden’s Regiment. Infantry is now Sir Miles Hobart’s Regiment of Parliamentary Foot or Sir Thomas Tyldesley’s Regiment of Royalist. It’s classy, gives a period feel to the game and certainly says a lot about the historical care that went into the game.
Second is the use of Regional Events, triggered by clicking a button with a hand of playing cards, indicating a some gambling to consider. Here cards pop up describing several options the player has, such things as plundering or building a wall, as well as highlighting all the areas available for implementing the selection. Choices may only surface after certain events take place, and whatever is played, the impact only lasts one or two turns with a percentage chance that nothing or an opposite result might happen. Good stuff.
The best thing, however, is the combined movement and operations process the game uses to manage everything and advance from turn to turn. Each turn is 15 days and within each turn a player can do anything allowed in any order, such as recruiting new units or moving an army across country. What is different is best described by an example of moving an army to an objective. The player drags the force across the map to its destination even though the time required for arrival might be three turns or 45 days. The computer AI will simply continue to move the unit each turn until it reaches its objective or something intervenes. When all is done, the player hits the next turn button and the software takes over and performs all the functions the player planned, while simultaneously doing the same for enemy forces as well. It means the human player is moving, fighting and supplying based on where he thinks the enemy will be and what their plans are, not against a stationary target awaiting their own independent turn. A player’s army could easily and unexpectedly get ambushed in route, causing a battle to occur which the game resolves.
This is what sets the AGEOD system apart. It shows how painfully slow operations were in this era, how generalship without satellite coverage operated, and especially, the hefty impact leaders had on the conduct of war. These are the days before formal military systems relieved some of a commander’s burden. There are no formal organizations, no formal regulations or doctrine, and remember across the Channel there is a doughty Swede named Gustavus who takes personal charge because few of his noble by birth generals can read. This game gets it.
Wet powder and victuals most fowle.
Yet if I could make one constructive recommendation for change it would be consideration that the AGEOD (it means Adaptive Game Engine Online Distribution) game engine should be authorized retirement. The thing has been around since 2005 when Philippe Thibaut and Philippe Malacher founded the French company. The engine has served the gaming world well, but to be candid, I had one heck of a time getting this software to run. Despite its modest hardware requirements, I never got past the second tutorial due to crashes and game play was slow and sluggish. Now as previously noted, my rig has been used by NASA to move the International Space Station, with a 4 + GH quad processor, 32 gigs of ram, a spanking new NVIDEA video card with 4 gigs supported by a Benq HD gaming monitor, a Logitiech gaming keyboard and a MadKatz gaming mouse. Yet changing screen resolutions, game settings and even playing in Win10 Game Mode or XP Compatibility Mode just didn’t work.
But now the game whistles along at Warp 10 with not a single problem to be found. A combination of AGEOD support and forum discussion (mine was not an isolated issue) revealed you had to install the game in a separate location from the default Program Files (X86) folder, delete an “ini” file from the game’s root directory and then open up another game file into Notepad to change a few numbers. BAM! Now the game runs like a thoroughbred even on my wife’s low-end Lenovo, so no problem, right? Welllll . . . As a reviewer I got some pretty quick help, I love forums and as a former IT Director I’m pretty comfortable going into files and recoding them (tho my “what the Hell, let’s do it” personality doesn’t hurt). Other folks, not so much maybe. They expect a game to be ready to play out of the box and may not be nearly as knowledgeable or comfortable in doing what I had to do.
I can’t specifically tell exactly why this happened, but I did notice that on page 10 of the digital manual the minimum hardware specs to run the game listed Win 8 as the most current software supported, and the recommended specs listed Win 7 and Vista instead. There certainly was no line saying Win 10 Creator’s Update. I’ve seen similar listings on other PC games recently, particularly serious wargames of the Matrix variety, so I wonder if it’s not time for an upgrade. The idea is to make the software out of the box game ready so the player has to do nothing but install and play. The idea is NOT to have the engine do anything different than it does now as regards gameplay. It simply seems time for an overhaul to make the engine more compliant with modern hardware an OS. It can be done.
Concluding Shotte (and Pyke).
I still strongly recommend this game, however. There is a solid fix available if you have issues, and the game is simply and excellent piece of historical simulation that is fun to boot. And for 20 bucks? Gimme a break.
There is one other consideration to propose. The crossover potential for this game is enormous, not only with tabletoppers but other PC games to boot, as a campaign based platform to fight tactical battles. Miniature guys are always looking for something like this as a scenario generation tool, but also consider a boardgame like GMTs Accursed Civil War (quoting a lament on the death of Royalist Lord Falkland at Newbury, BTW) or especially Matrix Pike & Shot Campaigns with its modding capabilities. Can you imagine stopping an ECW battle between Fairfax and Rupert to fight it out on Pike & Shot, then inputting the results into the AGEOD game to continue play. This has been done previously in Matrix Campaigns on the Danube so there is precedent.
And that by itself is reason enough to bring a solid game engine up to date.