Diadochoi Wars – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Superb graphics, fine AI, comprehensive though complicated interface, neglected subject, great historical accuracy, powerful editor, fine multi-play opportunities
Failed Basic: Steep learning curve, interface requires many steps, some crashes
When Alexander the Great said on his deathbed that his empire should go to “the strongest,” his generals didn’t bother with deep introspection as to their worthiness. Instead, they began a series of wars that make today’s gang turf wars look like playground squabbles. These “Successor” (diadochi, Greek for successor or royal heir) Wars are often overlooked as historians fast forward from Alexander to Caesar, leaving many interesting battles between armies using unique combinations of weapons and tactics unexamined. In the sixth entry in their Ancient Warfare series, developer Paul Bruffell and publisher HPS Simulations rectify this oversight for gamers.
Beware of Greeks in 3D
The graphics of this game cover all phases of play. The maps are scrollable but mouse scrolling can move a little too fast, so most players will use arrow keys on the zoomed-in views. The 2D zoomed-out view provides the best overview of the battlefield, showing terrain and the line-of- sight, fire arc, and range overlays very clearly, but the unit icons are tiny. The 2D zoomed-in view shows units more clearly and, using the PDF chart, they’re identifiable. More importantly, clicking on a unit brings up an information box that has a detailed image of the troops; the depiction of their weapons indicates the unit’s facing. This box also contains information on status, strength, and experience. Other options show army organization and highlight leaders. These 2D views are fine for macro-managing the battle but sometimes micro-managing is necessary and, for that, the 3D images fit the bill.
The 3D view is outstanding. Seventeen unit types including leaders are shown, each of the detailed figures dressed in historically accurate garb. Given that peoples from the Balkans and across Asia Minor, through the Near East into Egypt, and over the Hindu Kush are represented in the game, the number of images is impressive. Details depict with careful exactness weapons, armor, and even footgear. No other game comes close to the varied intricacies displayed. The game allows you to turn the maps 180 degrees so every aspect can be seen. Animals such as horses and elephants receive the same meticulous treatment as do war paraphernalia such as wagons, various kinds of chariots, and even field artillery. Civilians are also shown when one side defends a city or village. Colored bases help distinguish the sides and options allow the highlighting of fixed, disrupted, retreating, uncontrolled and routed units.
Terrain is equally well done, with trees, rivers, marshes, plateaus, hills, shrubs and rocky ground clearly exhibited. Only structures such as bridges, huts, stakes, field works and fortifications have a “one size fits all” feel to them. The animation is lacking, giving a jerky, tabletop feel to the proceedings; choosing different action speeds can alleviate this somewhat. The splendid action sounds make up for this with the tramping of feet, neighing of horses, blaring of trumpets, winding of artillery, the whizzing of javelins and arrows, trumpeting of elephants, and clank of weapons against armor, set along the cries of the wounded. The background noise between event phases is slightly out-of-place, however. Tweeting birds?
Few games are as well supplied with play aids as this one. This game has a 53-page manual, a shorter rule PDF, a quick reference guide, a FAQ section, a tactics guide, and several documents on scenario creation. Moreover, http://www.hpssims.com/Pages/Updates/up_Ancient/up_Ancient.asp has files common to the Ancient Warfare series and a free two-scenario, step-by-step, tutorial. Beginners or gamers on the fence about purchasing should take advantage of this opportunity to get a feel for the series and get the latest documentation.
Buttons and Menus through the Age
The interface for Diadochoi Wars is a variant of the John Tiller–style combination of menus and toolbars. The main menu bar at the top of the screen deals primarily with global issues such as view and sound options, file management, reports, commands for tournament games and some unit or army operations. Some options duplicate buttons on the tool bar below, while some are unique, such as making or destroying ladders, building bridges or fieldworks, and assaulting walls. The tool bar buttons are used to handle individual units or small groups. Among these are commands to rally/reform, create small groups, split units, show organization, highlight leaders and units’ status, activate a mini-map, and change formation.
The major difference from the usual Tiller paradigm occurs when a unit is clicked; an information box appears and opens up new tactical horizons. A unit can be moved with the usual left-click to select, right-click to move procedure but, given the size of this game’s battles, that method can be time consuming and would skip many nuances of the game. An army command from the main menu will move all units one hex but that move is helpful only in the early turns. The information box contains many bits of information but the most important are facing, formation symbols, status, and action points. Clicking on the tool bar “command” button—usually “on” by default—and clicking in the box brings a drop-down menu with eight commands: move, charge, skirmish, hold, pause for a quarter turn, change facing, forced march and change formation (into one of five formations—line, column, wedge, circle or square). Most of these commands need no explanation. Skirmish allows light units to easily retreat from stronger enemies; forced march adds action points but also adds fatigue. Turns are divided into four time sections; since commands can be queued (up to the action point limit) “pause” allows orders to be scheduled for later execution. Hot keys can be used for these actions if players turn off the information box.
Commanding many units by this method would be time consuming if not for the group-creation option. By turning off the “command” function and clicking on “create new group”, players can assign any number of units to a group. Clicking on any unit of the group brings up the information box and ticking the “group command” box will have every member of the group execute the commands chosen from the drop-down menu. These groups will last throughout the game even when different orders are given to individual units of the group. A very interesting variant of this is “Multiple Commanders.” When selecting a scenario, this option can be picked to allow players to create large groups, called “wings,” under specific leaders. Wings allow easy control while limiting the effects when part of the army routs.
All Against All
This game comes with twenty-two historical scenarios, nine generic “Table Top” scenarios, and a “Getting Started” scenario. Also included is a three-scenario campaign. When choosing a battle, players can opt for: three “Fog of War” levels; the use of leaders, so as to introduce command and control factors; and more morale and ammunition restrictions. Invoking the “Stop Clock” option limits the time a player has to give commands, helpful in hotseat games with certain players.
For labeling purposes, six generic army names are given: Macedonian, Greek, Bactrian, Antigonid, Ptolymaic and Barbarian. These rubrics are used in scenario creation. Within scenarios units are given more specific names such as Gauls, Arabs or Parthians. Many battles are indeed between Alexander’s generals and their families, but local leaders also revolted and challenged the Macedonians and they are represented in Diodachi Wars. For example, Sparta had a brief revival and vainly tried for hegemony over Greece.
Units have experience ratings from Experienced down to Militia; leaders are rated from Legendary to Mediocre. Units can carry tools for climbing walls or building bridges and palisades. Unit size can vary from 40 to 250 men. Size matters, not only in combat but in the ability to split units and rally routed troops. If command control options are used, units outside a commander’s range will be fixed in place. Stacking is limited to the number of men as per the charts and by the frontage shown for the terrain depicted.
Most battles occur in flat and open fields with each side deployed in a series of lines. The first line will be light infantry using bows, slings or javelins. Heavier shock troops will be toward the rear with cavalry on both flanks. Orders are given by one side and then the other, with movement and orders executed simultaneously in four alternating phases of fire and melee. Players cannot interfere here and may crash the program by clicking on the map during this time. The first two or three rounds will see the armies approaching slowly, with the missile troops firing to disrupt the foe. This begins automatically when enemies come into range. Losses in men are shown in yellow and red flashes as hits occur. After a few turns, the light infantry can head to the flanks by group movement, making room for the pike advance. Melee occurs when opposing units are adjacent. With the exception of skirmishers facing heavier units, units in melee are locked in a death grip and remain engaged until one unit or the other routs. Routing is caused by losses, disruption and fatigue. An exception to this is Macedonian pikemen, who can fall back one hex while maintaining their facing. Disruption can occur through losses, movement on rough ground, or going into the same hex as friendly units. Disruption affects combat but can be removed by passing a check that occurs automatically.
Movement can change facing so players should carefully observe units’ direction. Players should attempt to flank their opponents, while maintaining a reserve to prevent being flanked and to deliver the finishing blow against a wavering enemy.
A combat report appears after the action phase, showing the number of fatigued, disrupted and routed units, along with objectives achieved and army morale status. Battles are won when the morale of one side drops below 33% while the other remains at 43% or higher. If one side does not achieve victory by breaking the enemy’s morale before the end of the battle (battles lasts from 12 to 30 turns), victory is decided by points achieved through occupying victory hexes, eliminating enemy units, exiting the map at specific points, or by looting.
Sieges follow the same sequence but with catapults and bolt-throwers wearing down the defenders as ladder carriers approach. Units can be ordered via the top menu to make and use ladders.
Campaign games work in similar ways except players deploy their forces as they wish in the first turn. Losses are carried over to the next battle, but replacements can be recruited depending on the victory points earned. The AI understands victory and is very good at achieving it.
Diadochoi Wars will stay on enthusiasts’ hard drives for a long time for several reasons. The editor is very powerful. Although terrain cannot be added, ready-made scenarios’ troops can be modified to individual taste. New scenarios can be created from special generic map files, and armies can be built on a special training map and saved as an OOB file. Such customized armies can be used anytime, especially in PBEM tournaments. These tournaments can have up to six players with army size limited by agreed-upon point amounts. Campaigns can also be created by saving scenarios as cmb files and linking them. The editor is more complicated than the usual GUI-driven ones, but its depth is well worth the effort.
Although Diadochoi Wars is aimed at a particular niche audience, any gamer seriously interested in ancient warfare should play it. Its depth and accuracy are unsurpassed, and it is head and shoulders above all other publishers’ Ancient warfare games.
Armchair General Rating: 92%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad