In the ancient world, in order for a ruler to boost his legitimacy, it helped to be able to trace your lineage to the myth’s and legends that surrounded the religion of the times. The family of Phillip II of Macedon claimed to descend from Temenus, King of Argos, himself the great-great-grandson of Heracles. Heracles, of course, was the son of Zeus and, thus, Phillip could claim not only ancient royal blood but also divine ancestry. Such a pedigree helped breed loyalty.
Alexander’s promoters were not content with an Elizabeth Warren-like divine heritage and it is said he was fathered, not by Phillip, but by Zeus. Sources differ about whether Olympius, Alexander’s mother, promoted or objected to such rumors. Clearly someone, however, was pushing the story and it no doubt boosted Alexander’s ability to drag an army half way across the world.
Philip II in Field of Glory II
I suppose, upon reflection, it was a wise move to not tackle Alexander’s campaign in Field of Glory II‘s campaign mode. The game offers two related Macedonian campaigns, one for Philip and one hypothetical one which assumes Alexander lived longer to continue his conquests. In one case, Philips battles are considerably less known/documented when compared to those of Alexander. In the other case, they aren’t documented at all, because they never happened. These are both advantages when it comes to the structure of campaigns in Field of Glory II.
The campaign starts with Philip battling the Illyrians and a fairly typical random-map setup. The player is assigned a core army and then is given points with which to fill out his forces, tailoring the force make-up to his preference. One the army is selected, placement of that army can either be automatic or arranged by the player. Once all units are placed, the enemy (at least those not obscured by the game’s fog-of-war system) is revealed.
A victory at the tactical level takes you back to the campaign screen. Losses on the field will result in your army being depleted going forward. You may also be required to remove some of your units from your field army to serve as garrison units. It represents are simple but effective “guns or butter” strategic management. Sending more units to garrison duty results in a higher depletion of forces in the near term, but increases the points available to either “heal” damaged units or, after that has been accomplished, purchase additional units in future battles.
The campaign system sets up structure where the core units of your army are carried forward through a series of battles. The follow-on battle will be against a historically-appropriate enemy but will still have random factors as well as whatever tailoring the player has done with his own army. In addition, some of the “stages” having branching decisions, allowing the player to make decisions about the type of battle he would prefer to fight next.
This sort of “campaign” is probably familiar to long-time wargamers (John Tiller‘s campaigns system springs immediately to mind) despite the fact that the dual level system popularized by the Total War series has now become a standard.
On that note, there is a newish challenger to Total War when it comes to representing the ancients world at this level. It also chooses to focus on the campaigns of Philip rather than those of Alexander. I use the word “Newish” as we’re comparing to the likes of Rome: Total War and Field of Glory. The game was originally released as Hegemony: Philip of Macedon in the spring of 2010 but was updated and re-titled to Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece in early 2011. There series has since expanded to other time periods (both earlier and later than Philip’s lifetime) with the latest expansion having been released in 2017.
The system gets points for innovation. We have recognized that the tactical level of battles and the operation/strategic levels are at very different scales and deserve some kind of special treatment. In this case, the game sticks with the original Real-Time Strategy (RTS) template of all levels of the game proceeding on a single, continuous-time clock, but it is the user interfaces which treats the levels differently. Zoomed in, you see a 3D-rendered terrain over which units can move and fight. Zoom out your view to the bigger picture, and the depiction changes to the look of a hand-drawn map with figures representing units, leaders, and cities (see above screenshot). The table-top figures continue to slide around on the map, assuming they are in motion, and the game clock continues at the same rate from whatever level you chose to view the map.
Strategic-level considerations also have some innovative treatment. The classic RTS mechanic of build queues, while tried and true, fails to satisfy one looking for a historical wargame. An Age of Empires -style economic system typically requires you to manage your economy along side the tactical management of your army. The “guns versus butter” decisions are made both in terms of resources (do you spend on armies or technology?) as well as player attention (do I watch and click on my armies or my base?).
In Hegemony, map locations, be they cities, farms, or mines, produce the resources necessary to maintain your empire. However, creating connections (by road or by sea) between locations turns the management functions over to the computer. So the economic management becomes mostly creating supply lines and then defending them against enemies who would wish to disrupt them. The system streamlines micromanagement of the economy leaving, for the most part, considerations that would be in the purview of the military commanders.
Another novel feature is the way it handles lost units in battle. In your typical RTS, any units destroyed in battle must be replaced by building new ones back at your base. Assuming mid-game, the total unit count might be capped so that a loss on one side of the map will free up a build queue on the other side to create a replacement. If you are resource constrained, too many losses will cause your build queues to also grind to a halt. It forces you to manage your resources but doesn’t in any way resemble the way armies were raised, equipped, and fielded in the ancient world. In Hegemony, by contrast, units will disintegrate into a fleeing mob. When that mob makes it back to the unit’s home city, the city will begin its reconstructing based on the resources available. Adequately reformed, the unit can then again be moved forward into action. This method isn’t necessarily more “accurate” in any kind of simulation sense, but it does help reduce some of the sillier micromanagement as well as telling a better historical “story.”
While the game gets an A for effort, it does considerably less well in its execution.
First of all, it is still an RTS, and second or third tier even by RTS standards. At the beginning of the Philip campaign he fights significant battles with but one infantry and one cavalry formation in his “army.” While the game provides a semblance of the advantages of a mixed-unit force, and occasionally does an interesting job of it, the resulting battles still bear little-to-no resemblance to their historical counterparts. Similarly, the game still has the same focus problems that any pure-RTS does. If you decide you need to work on the economic conditions of a city, you may find* that a battle has been fought and lost on the other side of the map while you were repairing your farms.
Another issue is that the UI is less than perfect. One issue that particularly bothers me is with the unit commands. It uses a “wheel” style graphical interface to select among possible commands for a unit. In many ways it is similar to the Field of Glory II / Pike and Shot system that I’ve been so happy with. The biggest problem, however, is that the in order to select from the choices, it is necessary to keep the right mouse button depressed. The result is a wrist-straining mouse maneuver where one attempts to figure out what options are available and select the desired one while hoping that the graphic widget doesn’t disappear because you over-moved your mouse cursor. Similar UI design misses run through this game.
Also part of the problem is I’m not that good at it yet. Those familiar with RTS play will probably recognize my struggle. When you’ve fallen behind, all you can do is react to enemy units coming at you from every direction. Your units die and new ones are built to feed into the meat grinder. You play on wondering whether you’ll get control of the situation or whether your run out of resources before you do, but win or lose it isn’t fun. Especially if you lose.
If I had a mastery of the lowest level, I perhaps would find the strategic level more interesting. As the kingdom expands, Philip is going to have both land and sea supply routes that need to be defended. Will that make play strategically more interesting or just keep piling on more stuff to work at until, whatever my play level, I’m eventually going to be overwhelmed again? As it stands, this game has a bunch of appealing features but I just can’t warm to it as a whole.
The “branching campaign” style of Field of Glory II can often seem dry, especially without that cool-looking map showing your conquests and frontiers. In the context of an actual historical campaign, however, it may be the best way to give the player battles to fight without introducing micromanagement for micromanagement’s sake.
*The game’s UI provides a system of alerts when enemy units are spotted or when they attack your units or facilities. While it is adequate to the task, it is easy (at least for me) to lose track of the incoming messages because I’m concentrating on my own task at hand.