March of the Eagles

March of the Eagles

Written by Tom Bitterman on 3/29/2013 for PC  

Paradox Interactive makes big, grand strategy games.  Over time, the engine underlying these games has matured and now does a credible job at handling the various facets of running a country over time.  These facets include managing an economy, guiding tech research, building up a military, conducting diplomacy, and generally jockeying for position on the world stage.

From a game design experience this has the beneficial effect of allowing the subsystems that handle these facets to slack off some.  The Clausewitz Engine isn't the best at simulating an economy, or tech development, or military action, or diplomacy, or lots of other things.  But it is good enough, and, more importantly, it works so that they fit together in a way that makes sense to the player.  It may be difficult to determine some effects of any action (will building 5 new brigades be enough to win this war?) but other effects (the treasury will be smaller, monthly maintenance will be higher) will be certain.

The downside of having control over all these facets is complexity.  Games using the Clausewitz Engine (e.g. “Europa Universalis”, Hearts of Iron”) are real monsters with giant learning cliffs that take days to play.  Not surprisingly, this is a limited market segment.  “March of the Eagles” (MoE) is an attempt by Paradox to broaden its appeal to the less hardcore.  This takes the form of an advance on two fronts: simplifying the action; and multiplayer appeal.

The basis of most simplifications lies in the limited scope of the game.  MoE is meant to cover 1805-1820 (the Napoleonic Era) in Europe and around the Mediterranean.  The main driver of the game is the Napoleonic Wars.  The vast majority of the time your nation will either be at war, preparing for it, or recovering from it.

To this end, major parts of the Clausewitz Engine have been pared back.  Your nation's output is pretty much static – whatever you start out with in terms of productivity is going to be pretty much what you end up with (not counting conquered territories).  The same is true for technology.  15 years back then was not much time, and, although there were some pretty important discoveries in that period (e.g. canning) most things for most people were pretty much the same as when it started.  

The same is true for diplomacy.  There are some neat new wrinkles (the Coalition mechanic is nice) but in general you either hate somebody or like them, and that's that.  You could spend money to make someone like (or hate) you, but you'd be better off buying more units.  There just isn't time to work on a nation like in Paradox's other games.  The same is true for the minor nations - there will be no “steer Moldavia to rule Europe” outcomes because there just isn't the time.

This leaves us with a more operational-level game with a strong military flavor and this is where MoE fails.  The military engine is not up to the task.  On the one hand it is too detailed – a complete listing would take too much time so I will just list a few.  Every unit must be built in a particular city, each of which has a production capacity (so taking a different time).  There are too many unit types – as Britain, I think I had two dozen or more infantry types to chose from.  Who could be expect to make a reasoned decision about this?  Each “army” has four sections – left wing, right wing, center and reserves,each of which gets units (somehow) and each of which would like a commander.  Each commander has a set of good (and bad) numbers associated with them which go up and down, and get gain (and probably lose) any of about 6 zillion attributes (that affect their ability to lead various types of missions) over time.  Who could possibly make anything like a rational decision with all these variables flying around.  I mostly built Highlanders because kilts are cool.

On the other hand, the model is too simple.  The point of Napoleonic warfare was marching around a lot in formation – it was sophisticated tactical warfare, which is exactly what the Clausewitz Engine does not do.  At the very point where the Napoleonic era should shine through, the Engine just grinds some numbers and lets you know how it went.  As a bonus, there are few tools to handle the complexity.  Set a rally point, I dare you.

A special mention goes to whomever is in charge of determining casualties.  This has been a problem for over a decade know and nobody at Paradox can be bothered to fix it.  For example, as Britain I spent a half hour doing nothing but chasing like 300 French guys all over Ireland.  These guys would come up against armies of 2,000 guys, they would fight for a week, and 293 French guys would run away to the nearest unoccupied territory.  The real casualty was my desire to keep playing.

On the bright side, this is by far the most multiplayer-friendly game in the Paradox stable.  Most of the problem noted above go away, or are at least not as annoying when everybody has to suffer them.  A game can be finished in a reasonable time (less that 8 hours) and it can often be clear who is going to win well before that.  It would not be unreasonable to set up a game night on Tuesday for three hours and be done with a game after two meetings.  This is lightning-fast for a Paradox game.  Even the idea of winning is a little different than most of their games; other than MoE only “Hearts of Iron” comes with clear-cut victory conditions.

In summary, “March of Eagles” is a simpler version of the gargantuan strategy games Paradox usually puts out that focuses on the Napoleonic Wars.  It trims down some of the facets of the Clausewitz Engine that do not apply to this period and emphasizes a lighter, multiplayer-focused war game.    As a single-player game it is not very good, but it has a future for those who want to fire up a game with a few of their friends.
The real niche for MoE is as a more-sophisticated “Total War” for multiplayer fans. The online player looking for a game with substance at a reasonable price will like this game. The usual hardcore crowd would be better served to wait for "Europa Universalis IV".

Rating: 6.5 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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Can write a better AI than anybody out there.  Your mom likes me better than you.  So does your girlfriend.  Better-looking than you.  Greatest living American author (except for Gene Wolfe.  maybe).  Humble.

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