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The main reason I bought Field of Glory when I did was because Slitherine was preparing an additional module called Wolves from the Sea. That module is focused on the Viking Age armies and battles, expanding from the late-Roman Empire offered in earlier modules. At that time, I was indulging in the History Channel’s Vikings series, and was seeking wargaming tie-ins with that period. Outside of Medieval: Total War with some Viking oriented mods, I could not find a serious treatment of this at a tactical level.

Field of Glory, at that time, was going through some difficulties. The game was originally released in 2009, which isn’t all that long ago by the standards of many of the games I’ve been playing. Nevertheless, a couple of years after its initial release, there were issues. The original developer was no longer supporting the game, but it it remained popular enough and Slitherine was continuing to release new modules. I have this vague memory that there was a hard-core user who had taken on the original source code, but that would require searching back through the forums, which I won’t do. Whether a false start was abandoned, or never really took off in the first place, Slitherine ultimately decided that the source code (in Real Basic) was not maintainable.

By around 2012 another group of developers came up with a plan to port the system to the Unity gaming engine. The release of the Wolves from the Sea became tied to that project – that is, the new module would be released to run on the updated base game. Then the years began to go by and neither the new version nor the new module were available to the paying public.

I had been eyeing the product since it’s original release. I was deterred by lackluster reviews (particularly as a single-player experience) and one design flaw. I was persuaded by a particular criticism concerning the use of hexes versus squares – for the linear battles of the Roman era, the use of hexes for the map just seemed to throw things off.

Then a couple of years ago, I was (as I said) searching for a serious, tactical Viking game. That imminent Wolves of the Sea release popped up again. The situation at the time was that the Unity project was well under way and was trying to reproduce faithfully the original Field of Glory experience. That Unity version (Fog(U)) was available for download for FoG players in a beta form. I read that the beta included a (beta) Wolves of the Sea module. I decided that the combination was enough to put me over the edge and I bought the original FoG, discounted as part of that year’s Christmas sale.

By the time I got everything installed and working and was able to try out the combinations, the availability of the free Wolves of the Sea was no longer part of the package. The Unity version was available, but only to play modules that were duly purchased for the original game. Furthermore, the state of Fog(U) at the time was buggy enough that the best experience was to play in the original engine. And so I stuck with the old engine. Any experience up to this point focuses on that version.

The long delay in release bled much of the steam out of FoG(U)‘s engine. The delay certainly halted the momentum of frequent expansion modules, which of course will blunt enthusiasm for a game. Furthermore, as the development remained focused on getting a non-buggy reproduction of the original Field of Glory, but in the new engine, that meant work was not going into the improvements to the engine – the whole raison d’être for upgrading the engine in the first place. Finally, by the time FoG was released and moving forward again, Field of Glory II was in development. At least for me, FoGII looks to deliver much of the promise that FoG doesn’t fulfill.

Once again, however, it is time for the Slitherine/Matrix Games Christmas sale, and this time it finds me again dwelling on medieval fighting. As before, I am looking at the period leading up to the ascendancy of Charles V to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. This time, however, I decided to go way, way back to the chronological predecessor of Europa Univeralis. That is, Crusader Kings 2 ($10 in the Steam Christmas sale, I might add).

Crusader Kings was a follow-on to Europa Universalis, but its predecessor in terms of historical chronology. CK2 can start as early as the beginning of Charlemagne’s rule and lasts until where Europa Universalis takes over. There are several start dates scattered throughout that period. I was actually a little surprised that there aren’t mods out there to capture other snapshots of history. Maybe the sheer amount of work to research the name of every count, duke, king and emperor for a given date dissuades anyone who might decide to try.

I was hoping to target the ascendancy of the House of Hapsburg from mere control of a county to the control of the empire. Roughly, the mid 1270s. Within CK2, their main scenarios taking place around this time start at 1220 (titled Age of the Mongols) and at 1337 (focusing on the Hundred Years War). I went this time with the 1220 date. Further, I decided the emperor himself was a shaky play. The game warns that the Holy Roman Emperor is a “difficult” faction to play. Historically, the Hohenstaufens were a decade or so from being eliminated as a political power. Instead, I searched for a lesser title in the Empire that the game ranked as a little easier. I ended up settling on Ulrich III, Count of Neuenburg (or Neuchâtel from the French side of the border), who in CK2 is given a ducal title.

It is another lesson in the illusion of detail within the Paradox engine. So much is modeled within the engine, it is sometimes a shock when things are not. From 1152, the house of Zähringen had been granted a duke-level title (Rector) over the former Kingdom of Arles or Kingdom of Burgundy. That dynasty ended with the death of Berthold V, and the duchy was divided rather than assumed. At the start of the game, Ulrich III held county titles to Neuchâtel, Fenis, Aarberg, and Strassberg, as well as lower level titles. Bern, by contrast, become a Reichsfrei, a free imperial city beholden only to the Emperor himself. CK2 discourages flat hierarchies and, for example, an Emperor directly controlling a city would cause problems for the algorithms that are their to penalize the unwillingness to delegate. Although technically Ulrich was not a duke, within the game it probably makes sense to set it up as such.

Besides being ranked as “average” difficulty, this duchy for the Kingdom of Burgundy has some other appeal. Historically, the lands became part of the Hapsburg holdings, and so fit in with the theme I’m trying to follow. Also, I can perhaps aspire to uniting the French and German Burgundian holdings into a single, perhaps independent, Kingdom and elevating my faction to the global stage.

Unlike EU, CK2 does not have the driving set of historical events behind it. While the first decade or so of game play has a chance of resembling history, the game is most likely to rapidly veer off from the historical path. So it was in my game. Initially, the game begins with an active call for the Fifth Crusade and I so sent off some of my soldiers. My armies were soon overwhelmed the vast Muslim armies and I was forced to disband my crusading force before the war’s end, leaving them to return from Jerusalem on their own. And that end was not a successful one for Christianity, either, with the crusade ending in failure. Shortly thereafter, Ulrich’s death resulted in a lot of bellyaching from the other counts in his domain and several small wars were required to keep them all in line. By the time another (the Sixth) Crusade was called, I was in debt and suffering from depleted manpower as a result of my own succession struggles and so I did not participate.

As to the Emperor Frederick II, despite his German titles he considered himself to be a Roman Emperor in the historical sense. His focus was on uniting Sicily and Italy to Europe so as to recreate the reach of ancient Rome. Indeed, in the game, Frederick finds himself fighting wars in Naples as he deals with Italian rulers reluctant to conform to his plans.

The departure comes in the mid-1230s. Historically, Frederick was friendly with France, helping them to quell a succession war over Champagne (although the intervention probably had more to do with the succession fights in Germany than the actual politics in France). In the game, however, Frederick challenges France over territory in the low countries. Sensing an opportunity to further ingratiate myself to the emperor, I sent my soldiers to help in his fight.

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It’s hard to read, but a French army of just over 20,000 is attempting to lift the Imperial siege with its roughly 23,000 soldiers. The timely arrival of my own Burgundians tilted the numbers to Germany.

In the above screenshot, the king of France has fielded an army of over 20,000 men and is leading it to lift the siege of the contested province. My own army, of some 4,000, has just arrived from the south putting the besiegers at a slight advantage.

Give Me Unity or Give Me Death

This battle is close enough to make it interesting as a tactical fight. So back to Field of Glory – Unity and my new Christmas purchases (namely the Oath of Fealty module). First order of business is creating the above army in Field of Glory‘s Digital Army Generator.

As I began building the armies, I see that one of the criticisms I had of Field of Glory has been corrected in this version. Specifically, I complained that the only choice in the random skirmish mode was to create two evenly-matched armies. The FoG(U) interface now matches up two entirely pre-built armies, one for each side. So I can construct exactly the match-up that I desire. The downside to that is, unlike Pike and Shot (and, indeed, the original FoG), you cannot leave the computer opponent to generate their own army given the number of points. It became an easy shortcut in the other games to a) not have to build an enemy army in addition to building your own and b) give some random variation – you couldn’t know exactly what you’ll face. However, in using the engine to match up specific armies (either historic or generated by a strategic engine), you are probably given the makeup in advance, so it really isn’t that much of a loss.

In this case, I did not dwell on the detail. While CK2 breaks down the armies into different troop types, I did not try to match what was in CK2 with what I created in FoG(U). In fact, an army of 23,000+ men is about double the size of the armies that come with the modules, and so the choices when filling out the large army become limited (without some off-line modification of the army data.) In most cases, I’m not sure the detail is all that important, but I’ll put some more effort into it another time. In this case, I was able to narrow in on a suitable match-up very quickly. The experience was much more like the positive Pike and Shot games than my previous FoG games.

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We move forward to battle across an open field. On the third turn, our skirmishers meet. I’m not sure why the setup forced me to have only a single unit of skirmishers ahead of my army, but I make do with what I have.

The interface for FoG(U) largely reproduces that of FoG. You can see some upgraded look-and-feel in the main menu and some of the quirkiness of the original unit interaction has been improved. In other cases, though, it seems to have regressed. In the above screenshot, note the brown box in the lower left. It’s title is a “=>”. I don’t know what that means here but, in fact, there is some ample use of animated ASCII graphics to convey information, particular combat details. Some of the screens look more like a error log dump than a circa-2015 user interface. For some other features that seemed better the old way, I do wonder if that’s just because I got used to the old way.

I ran into a couple of bugs, but nothing too significant. The worst of them were when I tried to run the game in full screen mode. In full screen certain UI functions were just not working. Those problems seemed to go away when I windowed the game. However, for the window size that I’m using, the design doesn’t seem to account for the Windows tool bar. This means that the last line of the unit reports (brown boxes, again) is obscured and unreadable. While slightly sloppy looking, it isn’t show-stopping. Between this an other minor issues I’ve come across, there is nothing that says I should prefer to use FoG when both are available – with one exception. As far as I can tell (and I haven’t tried very hard yet), the user-made scenarios for FoG don’t automatically carry forward to Fog(U).  I am assuming that to play the scenarios which I’ve downloaded, I’ve got to load them in the version for which they are made.

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The lines are becoming fully engaged. We’ve run off each others skirmishers, which is a big advantage to me as I only had the one unit.

Having created French and German armies of approximately the right size, I loaded them on to a battlefield. The field of battle is picked randomly from pre-built choices. I honestly don’t know if FoG did it differently, but clearly there is no such thing as a randomly-generated terrain in this version. Once begun, the battle should not be in doubt. Unless the AI has made huge progress since the earlier version, I’ll always have an advantage over the computer in an even fight. And this fight isn’t even. The Empire is starting with a sizable 15% force advantage.

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I’ve broken the enemy’s left and center. I would probably lose my own left in the process, but the enemy army is about to collapse before that can happen.

The enemy is fairly aggressive, perhaps more so than I remember from FoG. Having run off my lone skirmisher, they hit my main lines and hard. In many cases, though, I have heavy foot defending against assaults from lighter units and skirmishers. My little men aren’t about to be chased off and give more than they take. On top of that, of course, I just have more men on the field. The early momentum continues to build inevitably towards…

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A substantial victory. Probably a forgone conclusion given my initial advantage in numbers.

… victory.

The fact that the Germans were victorious, as well as the size of the victory, is consistent with the results back in Crusader Kings. But I’m not sure if that says anything useful given the circumstance.

In contrast to earlier versions of the Paradox engines, and even EU4, the Crusader Kings 2 engine works to simulate the battle at a higher fidelity. I’ll dwell on this more in a future post, but it does question the desirability of fighting a battle off-line in a “tactical” engine when the battle tactics are portrayed for you right on-screen. Furthermore, the CK2 detailed battle is generating the results needed for the operational layer of the game. As units break away from the fight, distinctions are made between casualties, desertions, and just broken morale such that when the losing army retires from the field, it has some substantial portion of its force ready to reform and perhaps fight again. Can a table-top style simulation of that battle add anything that would justify changing these results?

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The Battle of Cambrai. This is going to cause 680 years from now when historians want to talk about the First World War battle.

In the end, either way you look at it, the Holy Roman Empire was victorious in battle and picked up a county from France. History is off and running down an alternate path.