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When looking for the defining events of 15th Century Germany, one stands out.

The Battle of Grunwald, or the (First) Battle of Tannenberg, or the Battle of Žalgiris – all depending, I suppose, on whether you are Polish, German, or Lithuanian-  is not only one of the most important 15th century battles for Poland and Lithuania, but (for them) one of the most important in history. In Poland, Lithuania, and (to some extent) Ukraine, it is a triumphal example of a population throwing off its foreign oppressors. The victory marks the peak of power of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which by mid-century was (at nearly 1 million square kilometers) the largest state in Europe. To the Germans, it came to represent a defeat by the forces of chaos over Western, Christian values. Thus, in the narrative of the 20th century, the Second Battle of Tannenberg was deliberately woven into the historical facts (and fantasies) to portray the Hindenburg’s victory over the Russians in August of 1914 as a continuation of a conflict of civilizations from 504 years earlier.

The battlefield was between the German villages of Grünfelde, Tannenberg (Sztambark in old Polish or Stębark today), and Ludwigsdorf. In Poland, the victory over the Prussian Crusaders was foretold by St. Bridget (of Sweden, not Ireland) and thus, shortly after the victory, King Władysław II Jagiełło ordered that a cloister and church be built near the battlefield and dedicated to the saint. He said it should be at the place called Greenfield. He was speaking in Latin; Grunenvelt. As time went on, the Polish historians assumed that he was speaking German and meant to say Grünwald, and thus the town became Greenwood rather than Greenfield. The Lithuanian, Žalgiris, also assumes this version of the name. The Germans avoided all such confusion by associating the battle with Tanneberg rather than Grünfelde.

So in honor of the release of the new Field of Glory II, I fired up my Field of Glory and the user-made scenario for the Battle of Tannenberg.

negative

The Teutonic Knights engage some ‘Lithuanian Negative Points’ in the opening stages of battle.

My experience reminded me once again why a Field of Glory II will be so welcomed.

The complaints here are many and interconnected, but focusing the blame for them proves difficult. The scenario I played was user-made and some of these problems were added at the discretion of the scenario designer. I hate to be too critical of a fellow player and enthusiast. He created a scenario (many, actually, over the years) to share with the rest of us, and that deserves my thanks. The decisions are well documented, and I’ve seen it both in Field of Glory and in Pike and Shot, as a way to force the game’s AI to make certain historical decisions. In that light, the criticism may be due the game engine itself, if it is unable to do what users desire without the creation of odd terrain and nonsensical units.

The reason I bought Field of Glory, after years of hesitation, was because I had grown frustrated with (this should sound familiar) the Medieval: Total War modelling of the battles within its timeframe. I was particularly interested, at that time, in Viking Age battles. Field of Glory did not have a module out for that era, but had one in the works – I think it was in a form of beta when I was looking. Instead I picked up the expansion module A Storm of Arrows, covering Western Europe during the latter part of the Medieval period, a period that has the same Total War issues.

Some general background. Field of Glory is a computer version of the table-top rules of the same name. For those who play, fidelity to the tabletop version seems paramount. From comments, I suspect many have purchased this product for use when playing a miniatures game simply isn’t practical. This allows one to play without setting up a table, with armies which are not in your collection, or remotely with someone anywhere in the world. Of lesser importance is the fact that you can play alone against the computer opponent.

The original game, and each add-on module, ships with a number of historical battles. For A Storm of Arrows there are six such battles, from Scotland, the Hundred Years War, and the English Civil War. The modules also contain army setups for the various nationalities of the time period. The point of this is that players can create a variable yet historically plausible battle using a point system that tries to balance the advantages evenly between the two players. In this expansion package, there are dozens of “army lists.”  Beyond that, Field of Glory has an editor that allows a user to create a map and place armies and that tool is not limited by the modules purchased. As an example, whatever module might be appropriate for a “Tannenberg” scenario, there is no need to purchase it in order to create or to play a user-made scenario for this battle.

What it does mean is that you are reliant on the community to model your favorite historical battle, hopefully doing so to your liking. This problem is further exacerbated by a change in the way Dropbox hosts files. The Field of Glory system was released in 2010 (or thereabouts) and much of the scenario development took place years ago. Earlier in 2017, the file link system for Dropbox was changed and many of the stored files are no longer reachable. For a newer player looking for battles today, it can be hit-or-miss as to whether you can still find them.

So back to that Tannenberg scenario… My first and biggest complaint is that it didn’t give me a good sense of “re-living” the battle. Between the unreal looking terrain, the artificial units, and the channels created to delay units entry on to the battle, it was difficult to connect to the actual battle.

greenfield

A Google Earth view of the battlefield, taken from the monuments. Somehow it is hard to reconcile this with the great field of triangular ponds, as presented in the game.

Part of the confusion is that the scenario doesn’t attempt to simulate the entire battle. It is designed to capture a particular moment of it – right at the time when history could have been changed. The scenario author describes his design in a forum thread. Essentially, the scenario starts after the attack on the German left has been chased off and the commander of the Teutonic knights is about to capitalize on his position by leading a charge into the Polish line. As described by the designer, if the charge succeeds, he wins, but if the assault begins to peter out, eventually the enemy numbers will overwhelm and carry the day.

knights

The center of the German assault. It just doesn’t feel like a center.

As I alluded to at the beginning, this style of scenario bothers me. I don’t find it enjoyable to play a game that doesn’t “look real,” because the terrain or the units have been so heavily modified. The “hacks” bother me while playing, and it makes it that much harder to “relive” the battle in question.

In this case I did, apparently, break the enemy center with sufficient alacrity to carry the day. But with the context of that obscured, it wasn’t a very satisfying win.

Compare and contrast with another user’s scenario design for the same battle.

knightsv2

Now this battlefield and army array feels just about right.

This scenario takes the traditional design route of trying to recreate the armies, formations, and terrain to match the historical situation. For me, it comes out as a much better experience.

It also produces, again as far as my uneducated eye can tell, results in line with historical expectation. In playing this scenario, I did have the advantage of “lessons learned” in my previous attempt, and that probably impacted how I approached this one. As the scenario opens, the computer player’s Lithuanian attack comes as historically happened – on my left flank. I rapidly dispersed it without inflicting any significant losses (or taking any, for that matter). One deviation from reality is that I advanced my entire line so as not to expose my left flank to an enveloping counter-attack from the enemy center. Part of me wanted to hold back and let the Poles take the initiative again, but I wasn’t sure they would. Computer AIs are notoriously weak when forced to coordinate an attack.

knightsv3

Coming right down to the wire, both armies are about to break. On both sides, our right flank has caved, and it is just a matter of who loses heart.

As a result, I fought much of the battle too far forward, over river obstacles and in within the trees. Other than that, the result seemed passably historic. I was overwhelmed on my right and I failed to break the enemy center.

Unlike Pike and Shot, this game does not try to translate the final positions into a casualties screen. What is shown, rather, is simply the point loss, which could be killed, injured, retreated, fled, or surrendered. The heavy losses suffered by the Teutonic Knights may well have been mirrored in this battle, if the end game were played out. As my lines collapsed and my forces were swept up by the enemy, my losses would surely escalate. As a result, any objective evaluation of historicity based on casualties is probably out of reach. This did, however, feel like a nice representation of the battle and, incidentally, a well balanced challenge for the (German) player.

This also got me back to thinking about one of my main criticisms of the game, as far as its usefulness to me. That criticism is how I am hemmed in by the “points” system from using the random scenario function to create a historically-based scenarios. Or perhaps, as I was looking at before, creating battles encountered within a strategic system. In fact, the solution I came up with in Pike and Shot, which is to edit the armies which are fed into the part of the program that randomly generate battles, may also work in Field of Glory. The one additional caveat seems to be that, whereas Pike and Shot allows the points of each army to be selected, Field of Glory requires that the points of the two armies match. What this means is that the player side of a battle can have less points (by leaving points on the table when creating the army) than the computer opponent, but not more.

All-in-all, fighting this battle has renewed my opinion of Field of Glory a tad as a quick simulator for historical battles (assuming the right person has stepped up and made a good scenario for it) and perhaps for what-if battles, at least for the Medieval time frame. I may have to come back to it.