Challenge Accepted: Uniting Italy in Field of Glory: Empires

BLUF, Bottom Line Up Front: I think I lost. The Boss hooked me up with a beta copy of the upcoming AGEOD title Field of Glory: Empires (or FOGE), grand strategy fare that essentially is a replacement for the studio’s previous Alea Jacta Est game. But there’s a twist in the form of a ‘challenge’ where you start with Italy and environs as the only geography available for play. You are the Roman Republic in 310 BC, with the mission of conquering ancient Italia (historically the boot, but not Cisalpine Gaul or Sicily) in the least amount of turns as compared to other reviewers with similar invitations. Outside the heralded ability to export FOGE battles into the Field of Glory II (FOG II) software for down and dirty tactical play, everything else works normally.

Well I did it, but it took me two separate games and four years longer than history. The last Etruscan rebellion was quelled in 264 BC and I finished off the last Etruscan army in 268. Nevertheless, the experience was a great way to learn how the game worked and where the final product seems to be heading. So with that in mind, sage words of wisdom follow.

Gameplay and Graphics

FOGE is similar in design to previous AGEOD titles, but it’s using Slitherine’s own Archon engine which means the game runs very smoothly. FOGE is an area movement game with each turn representing one year of real time. Military units are Legions (around 5000 men), their equivalents, supporting units such as light cavalry plus naval fleets. Each turn the player makes decisions as regards to resource management to insure a large enough treasury and loyal population to build and sustain military units marching to conquest. The player plans these processes for execution, hits the End Turn button and the computer AI runs both the player’s designated actions for that turn, and simultaneously the actions of computer controlled allies and enemies. The game is won by compiling the most Legacy Points, measuring you building an empire “so that it endures the passage of time, and your achievement is measured through the legacy you’ll leave, even if in the end, your nation is no more.”

Sound familiar? Well it should, but the changes herein collectively give FOGE a much different personality than previous AGEOD grand strategy games. The result is a final product that looks more historically accurate, yet easier to play, unburdening the player with a lot of the micromanagement this genre has abused in the past.

Initially a player controls a number of regions, all of which contribute to a pool of resources to include money and population. Within each region the player decides on buildings to construct within the confines of four general areas. They are military infrastructure, industrial infrastructure, food and health infrastructure and culture. Buildings available are drawn from a list provided by the AI, or the player can choose Shuffle and hope next turn a new list will offer something more advantageous. Obviously, construction comes with a cost as regards completion time, prerequisite materials, manpower and money, with the option of moving groups of slaves and citizens from one category to another to speed up the process. The ratio of citizen to slave is important to minimize the chance of revolt, and the culture category is surprisingly important due to a Decadence Rating (Rome? Decadence? Who would have thought!?) that impacts winning the game. The player may also engage in both trade and diplomacy, and indeed, outside small independent tribes, you can’t attack your neighbor unless you declare war first. All in all the mouse clicks needed to do this are few, pretty simple and easy to learn.

Such management eventually manifests into building and maintaining military forces. For armies already on the books, players may split units from one army to create a new army, or merge two or more armies into one. You can also assign generals (who seem to die a lot in this game, and not necessarily on the battlefield) who come with offensive and defensive ratings from 0 to 2, as well as a special characteristic such as siege warfare. You can also create military units within each region by selecting it from a local pool provided by the AI, while watching your money, metal and manpower numbers plummet. Normally said units will appear next turn, or perhaps the turn after. Moving these units is done by army, using the mouse to draw a path to an eventual destination where the lads can do things like garrison a fortress or general butt-kicking if the locals don’t comply.

And if they don’t, a battle occurs, and here FOGE gets different. Yes, you can click a button and let the software resolve the engagement, but you really need to watch the game play the contest out. If you do you will see a FOG II type battlefield with FOG II units lined up opposing one another. There is first a ranged weapons phase for bows and pila, followed by a close combat phase unit by unit, one on one. If the battle is not a Draw, this is followed by a pursuit phase where the line of winning troops moves forward and what’s left of the loser dies in place. If the battle is a Draw then the entire process is repeated again and again until somebody loses.

Why important? Well in my first contest I found out that every Roman infantryman who can put on a sandal carries ranged weapons in the form of pila and javelin, his enemies not near so much. That initial volley with ranged weapons is devastating, resulting in many enemy formations labeled Exhausted or Tired before even sliding their sword out its sheath. Trust me, you’ll understand Rome’s status as 800 lb gorilla, what force structure you might want to build in the future, and as a hint, it’s not heavy horse.

Obviously conquering new regions helps your Legacy, provides additional resources but also accrues another interesting bonus. When you capture more than half the regions in a designated area, you can convert them into a single unified province. This does give some pluses resource wise, but it also allows you to recruit new military units from the province from a single pool, as opposed to whatever is available in each region. It also allows you to use the AI to run a lot of your resource management so you can concentrate on getting another Triumph thru the streets of Rome. For both population management and building construction, you can choose a balanced approach, or emphasize a specific area. And it works quite well. During each turn messages will pop up offering options for the player to choose in politics and so on, but also on the plate are little coins with symbols that appear in the region of interest and along the right side of the screen. They provide information such as what general just got knifed by his mistress, but more importantly, the fact that your AI built a new aqueduct in Latium.

Graphically FOGE is a very big improvement over previous games IMHO, being much more professional and period looking, with a navigation system that is easier to manipulate. The game borrows a lot from FOG II to include the mosaic style title screen. Most noticeable, however, are the depiction of towns and military forces. In the former case the style is 3D models of villages, cities, really big cities and capitals on an equally attractive 3D map where the real estate changes appearance with the season. In the latter case we are talking about the complete and wholesale substitution of the old unit commander plaques for the miniature soldiers from FOG II, the appropriate Vexillum by their side. In battle, same thing. These are the FOG II troops in every respect. They look the same and use the very same animation, to include throwing spears and dying. Crisp and detailed, the visual presentation is quite good.

Challenge Compilation

Now, off to war. Yours truly put in a total of 25 hours on this game over the weekend, and ran two separate campaigns. The initial contest I have forever named Fulgur Romanum, or Roman Lightening. Not. Because this challenge was to see who could conquer Italy the quickest, I decided on a Blitzkrieg strategy whereby I simply built as many military units as I could as fast as I could. I totally disregarded population, money (yes, you can go into debt in FOGE), culture, diplomacy, everything, thinking I could subdue Italia before something would come back to haunt me. Unfortunately I forgot the age old adage that in military planning, the enemy always gets a vote, and on at least one turn I did something stupid.

In the first case I got into a scrap with two small independent Italian states who obviously made a lot of burnt offerings to the Dice Gods. Although I won, it was via multiple refights because of Draw after Draw after Draw. This depleted my armies, and my later attacking a triple fortified capital from the march didn’t help. When I caved I had just pulled my largest army away from trying to defeat Tarentum in the south and moved them north to the Alps to counter a large incursion by the Venetii. At this point civil unrest was occurring, I was bankrupt, and my population was not stable enough to support what I had in the field much less wanted to build. Desertion was rampant and many legions were understrength. I had a lot of Legacy Points, but after receiving a scroll from the Senate advising my retirement my bet is it didn’t matter.

My second shot was a more methodical approach and while it took longer, it worked, and I was socially, economically and politically very strong at game’s end. First, I disposed of the Senones then grabbed the contiguous Italian independents because this allowed me to create my first province and stuff some resource management to the AI. When I had to personally intervene I built structures that were cheap, could be in place quickly and provided extra coin for my coffers. Then I followed this same process as I moved south to take Tarentum, simultaneously concluding a treaty with the Etruscans (whom I delightfully betrayed at game’s end) to keep some of the northern tribes from interfering.

Otherwise I developed a strategic military management system based on four turn groups and followed it religiously. The first turn I built nothing for the military and did not engage in battle, the second turn same thing but I built some military units, third turn I merged various forces into mega-armies and fourth turn I marched and starting swinging Gladii. I also handled force structure differently and built no navies or heavy cavalry as the former seemed unnecessary historically and the latter simply doesn’t work well in a country as mountainous as Italy. I also laid siege to fortifications and wore down the defenders before I assaulted them, and besides Legions, I built lots of cheap light horse and Velites. This helped deal with a unique game concept called Frontage. Here each region is rated by terrain type and the overall size of the real estate. This result indicates the number of minimum number of units needed to invade the place without going into battle with a severe disadvantage.

Now admittedly I was somewhat surprised at how long some infrastructure took to build, and even more surprised that Pyrrhus of Epirus didn’t land and stroll a Phalanx into the Forum, but I achieved success though I’m sure I didn’t win the overall race. Indeed, despite a competent AI adversary that liked to hit hard the moment a weakness was perceived; I only threw caution to the wind the last couple of turns.

Quibbles and Bits

Negatives? Well this is a beta, but from a purely personal preference perspective I found Field of Glory Empire’s messaging system to be really annoying. Some of the socio-political options that popped up randomly weren’t available because certain conditions had yet to be met, so I need to see them why? Likewise the info coins often don’t disappear when you click on them (the one for battles flips you to the tactical screen you just fought on ) and I really don’t need to know every time an available general meets his demise back in Rome.

Outside that, however, this was a really good experience. The game was one of the easiest of this genre to play and I think this was due to its allowing me to create my own repetitive management process. Nail that down and you’ll be clocking a yearly turn every 5 – 10 minutes. Things like the creation of provinces, Frontage and the tactical battle map really infuse a bit of period ambience into the system. Now add to that the promised ability to export these battles into the FOG II tactical game. Well, considering one of my armies had not less than 10 full Legions present, I for one cannot wait to see how this will be handled between the two games. Ave!

Field of Glory: Empires is due out later this year via Steam & direct from the Slitherine store.


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