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In my quest to find a suitable Hundred Years War theme on the PC I again returned to the first iteration of Field of Glory. My candidate is a lesser battle in the War of the Breton Succession, the Battle of Mauron. I choose it mostly because it’s an official scenario in my Field of Glory Battle Pack. I was a bit surprised by what I found. Yet, I shouldn’t have been because I’ve seen these results before. Still, this time, it seemed more stark than ever.

The Battle of Mauron is notable to me for a couple of reasons. First, it is in some ways a repeat of the French defeat at Crécy. Like at Crécy, the French forces significantly outnumbered the English. In both cases, the French had an obvious advantage in mounted knights, which they considered to be superior to the foot-soldiers facing them. Their hubris was again to be their downfall.

Second, we see an example of what earned the scorn of Cardinal Talleyrand in Quand un Roi perd la France with respect to the Order of the Star. The Ordre de l’Étoile had been established a year earlier by John II the Good as a counter to Edward’s Order of the Garter. It also reacted to the humiliating loss at Crécy by creating a set of standards for knighthood which would be more conducive to producing great warriors than tournament champions. For example, among the tenets of the Order was an oath not to retreat from battle, an oath that would become part of the disaster at Mauron (August 14th, 1352). The inauguration for the Order of the Star took place on January 6th, 1352 at Saint-Ouen, near the Abbey of St. Denis, from whence the battle standard of France, the Oriflamme, originated. Members of the order fought and died at Mauron.

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In its opening move, the British archers charge my French knights.

Based on past experience, I assumed that the best choice for single-play was the default Human option as specified within the scenario. In that case, that meant playing the French. Once again, it is difficult to know a priori whether this will be the right choice. The French start off with 20% more break points and, apparently, a stronger army. Of course, we also know that the English were the historical victors. Assuming that the factors which led to that victory are correctly modeled, playing the French should be harder. I chose the French side and began. I know the French downfall lay in their misuse of their cavalry, so I hold back their charge as I move my entire line forward.

Alas, the Field of Glory – Unity (FoG(U)) AI shows its usual tendency for aggressiveness bordering on recklessness. The English archers don’t try to pick off my mounted knights from their defensive positions but, instead, charge forward across the field to engage. As effective as FoG longbowmen are at hand-to-hand combat, in this case, they have rushed ahead of their abilities. Hitting my French line (see screenshot above), they immediately begin to fall into disorder, which gives me a chance to use my superior mobility against them. A few turns later (see below) and the English right has shattered.

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My right starts to give, but the damage is done. The French will win the day.

At this point, the game settles down into the calmer pace of attrition. There are areas in the line where the superiority of the English forces give them a clear advantage, but the morale rules of this game weigh against coming back from a big deficit. With the heavy infantry engaged across the field, it becomes just a matter of time.

For what its worth, by the numbers, this was the closest to the actual battle results (although obviously reversed due to the French victory). For the most part, units fled the field without sustaining huge, ahistorical casualties. A factor in this might be what appears to be a more complex morale modeling. I get the feeling that the little AI men are more likely to rush into battle but also more likely to run off as the fight turns against them

And turn against them it always seems to do.

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As the British, I use my strength to set a solid defense against the French.

To make sure that I hadn’t simply played the easy side, I swapped, and took command of the English. Obviously, I chose not to charge the French lines, instead allowing them to come to me, a strategy more in line with the historical battle. The result was the historical, English victory; a victory even more lopsided than when I played as the French. In addition, it was a far more bloody result compared either to historical estimates or my first play-through.

This satisfied me that I hadn’t simply won the easy side of a lopsided scenario. It also reinforced my thinking that one of the problems with the FoG(U) AI is that it acts too aggressively. Simply holding back seems to be the key to English victory, but the AI can’t seem to see when that might be appropriate. It’s ironic because generally programmed opponents are better on the defense than on the attack.

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The British line can, indeed, be formidable. The advantage of the French knights is their mobility, which I will use.

In fact, that was sometimes a criticism of the original Field of Glory‘s AI; it was passable given a defensive position but could not coordinate a decent attack. So, to test whether that might be the case, I replay the scenario in the older version.

It may be obvious in the above screenshot but, if not, we can see that while the AI English still advance, they do so in better order. They don’t charge against my mounted knights. But neither will I fall victim the delusions of the French nobility and charge headlong into the English foot formations. The advantage of having horseman is that they can move faster, so move I will.

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While I execute my left flanking maneuver, the battle hangs in the balance.

Across the board, it is evident that the old game’s programming is much better suited to this battle. Where I’ve engaged infantry against infantry, the French are the worse for it. There is some give and take, but my right definitely looks weak. If you can see the running score, the English are chipping away at my initial advantage in army size.

However, I’ve traded causalities for position. The task of my front line is not to break the English infantry but, rather, to hold them in place while my knights ride around to their rear. I this I do seem to be successful. The English right is also a mess and my knights are about to have free rein in the English rear.

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A few turns ago, it seemed challenging. Now it is looking dicey. Numbers-wise, we’re still close to even but all my infantry is starting to break.

Without a doubt, this is a far more challenging fight than the FoG(U) version. The tension of give and take, of winning here but losing there – it makes for a much better play experience. Furthermore, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the final score. Instead of the easy wins I had in FoG(U), I ended up with a loss in FoG.

You might notice, if you compare the battle shot directly above with the final score below, how rapidly the battle turned against me. In a single turn, the AI was able to grab a victory in nearly all the skirmishes across the field turning what looked like, on a morale basis at any rate, a close battle into an immediate route.

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Typical of tactical wargames, the digital battle was bloodier than the historical one, although not ridiculously so.

The more of these I try, the more it is clear to me why the Field of Glory – Unity project was abandoned. I seem to recall an exception or two, but for the majority of battles I’ve tested, the older version provides the better challenge. This includes not only user-made scenarios, which may have been designed around the AI’s weaknesses and strengths, but also the stock scenarios (like this one) that should have been designed for play balance.

I wonder how long until Field of Glory II makes it to the Middle Ages?