This winter, as I believe I’ve alluded to in other articles, I’ve begun to ease back into boardgaming as a hobby. This is difficult, as you might imagine, since the other Pete is my only friend, and he doesn’t play boardgames. But I can at least think about playing them, and I actually managed to press-gang some of my relatives into playing Combat Commander and Conflict of Heroes at Christmas.
Yes, the bug bit me, and it bit hard. Witness:
Yes, even though this is the exact sort of hobby I swore up and down I’d never get into, I did it. I bought the excellent block game, Commands & Colors: Ancients and, not satisfied with the blocks, bought and painted little Roman and Carthaginian soldiers. I die of shame, but I die with lots of toys.
Because, truth to tell, I’m a Roman history geek. This is odd, given that I don’t have a drop of Latin blood in me, but maybe it stems from watching I, Claudius in grade school.
Therefore, you can imagine that when I heard that Slitherine had released a Windows version of their popular tabletop miniatures game, Field of Glory, the effect was akin to telling a feline that a catnip truck had overturned its cargo just outside his house.
Field of Glory is a miniatures game for ancient and medieval combat. There are, at present, only two anceints miniatures game systems.(footnote 1) One is called De Bellis Antiquitatis, and is too complicated for anyone to actually play.(footnote 2) Field of Glory is the miniatures tabletop game that everyone plays after they try to learn DBA and then think better of it.(footnote 3)
Now, when I say DBA is “too complicated” I’m actually expressing a personal value judgment about most miniatures games. What makes Field of Glory a “miniatures” system and, say, Memoir ’44 not a miniatures game is, basically, that the latter has hexes. The central conceit in a miniatures game (derived from as traditional a source as H.G. Wells’ Little Wars) is that your little toy soldiers are doing the fighting. The implication of this is that things like facing and line-of-sight are too important to be left to mere abstractions. So if you want to know if your archers can see the enemy to take a shot, you get a piece of string and try to ‘point’ a straight line between the archer and his target. Likewise, if the archer’s range is 12.5 inches, you’d better have a ruler handy. This whole issue of rulers and straightedges and fiddly movement is what has kept me from ever seriously considering playing a miniatures game in person.
The appearance of a computer version of Field of Glory then, presented a great opportunity for me to enjoy the flavor of the tabletop game without having to put up with all the intolerable fiddlyness of it.(footnote 4)
The game is wonderful.
It should be said that this is not a perfectly faithful translation of the game: compromises were made for playability, which is always a good thing in my book. Amusingly, there’s no measuring, for example – the computer version of the game is played on a hex grid; my guess would be that this makes managing the AI much simpler. The graphics are simple, and fairly low tech, but are clear enough to clearly illustrate what’s going on in any given battle, although things can get a bit cluttered at times:
There are 25 battles that ship with the game, 22 of them historical. The game comes with a scenario editor, and players are already designing their own historical scenarios. Before each battle, you’re given the choice to assign sides to humans or computer players, and to given an advantage to one side or the other (necessary for those of you playing against the AI, which is, regrettably, weak). Once on the field of battle, each player moves (or declines to move) all of their pieces in turn.
The combat rules are only slightly more baroque than those of Commands & Colors. There are essentially three types of combat: ranged attacks, “impact” (riding your cavalry into an enemy) and “melee” (slogging it out with swords and shields). Light troops, such as velites, will evade melee with stronger units if they can. As units take damage, they may lose levels of cohesion, which will make them fight worse. A strong unit, taking enough damage, may become disrupted (see the units in the picture above with the “D” badge on them), and will fight at a penalty. A disrupted unit may become fragmented, fighting even worse. And a fragmented unit may rout, trying to flee the field of battle headlong. Each turn units that have lost cohesion have a chance to rally back up a level, a process helped by the presence (and proximity) of a strong commander.
There are a few things that bugged me about the game as a software product. Parts of the user interface, while functional, lack polish. More importantly, there’s no obvious tutorial, and the manual is a disorganized mess of web pages. A little programmed instruction would have gone a long way for me. This is not a hard game to comprehend, so after I played through a short battle or two I understood what was going on, but a tutorial (especially on how facing affects your ability to charge, and how training affects when and whether you can manuever during a turn) would have been really nice. (Strangely, the game started giving me tutorial explanations only on the third or fourth time I played it, 7 battles in. Perhaps I picked up an update?) But these are, ultimately, nitpicks about what is, at heart, a lovely little wargame.
The game supports play-by-email, and Troy Goodfellow, who has written about the game here is already needling me on Twitter to play with him, presumably because a night without delivering me a humiliating defeat is like a day without sunshine. I will have to take him up on it. The PBEM part of the game – which I have looked at, but not actually used yet – is extremely polished, compared to the single player game. You register an account, and then you can issue and accept challenges from other players. I look forward to trying it.
We don’t give numerical scores here. But if you love strategy games, and you love games themed on ancient warfare, you must buy this game.
Field of Glory by Slitherine, published by Matrix Games in the US, available here. Digital download is $29.99. Windows only.
Footnote 1: …that I will bother to tell you about.
Footnote 2: I’m lying, but the chances that anyone who reads this will have actually played a full game of De Bellis Antiquitatis make it unlikely that anyone will call me on it.
Footnote 3: Or, if they don’t think better of it, their wife leaves them and they move back into their mom’s basement.
Footnote 4: Intolerable to me – I suspect most of the tabletop players in fact play it because of the fiddlyness. And that’s fine: let a million flowers bloom.
Disclosure statement: Matrix Games graciously provided Tea Leaves with a review copy of this game.