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Posted on Mar 17, 2010 in Electronic Games

Field of Glory – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Field of Glory. PC Game. Developed by Slitherene, distributed by Matrix Games. $39.99 download, $49.99 physical copy.

Passed Inspection: Fun, fast, and smooth game play. Great multi-player feature.

Failed Basic: Sometimes cryptic feedback

After the battle starts, even the most grizzled gaming veteran will quickly be charmed by FoG‘s, fast-paced, engrossing game play.

Two thousand years ago, the fate of kingdoms did not change at the whim of mythical gods on the slopes of Mount Olympus. Empires rose and fell on the shoulders of real men spilling blood on dusty fields from Britain to Persia. The flow of combat was often the same. In the distance, fierce bands of half-naked barbarian swordsmen waived their iron blades, taunting their clean-shaven Roman foes. The Romans would respond with fleet-footed light infantry, the velites, tossing their javelins into the heart of the enemy formation. Meanwhile, the core of the Roman legions, their short gladius swords gripped tightly behind long shields, moved with precision to flank the enemy shield wall. The Romans only had one lesson for the barbarians: courage may make a warrior, but it is discipline that makes a soldier.

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Despite the rise of console gaming, this is a great time for the computer war game. It seems like the PC strategist has never had so many choices for spending his gaming dollar. But even the PC general who pinches his pennies with vice-grips can find some extra coin for fast-playing, fun games. Such a game is Field of Glory, developed by Slitherine and available from Matrix Games. FoG is an easy-to-play simulation of ancient battles, based on the miniature rule set of the same name.

The game depicts ancient land battles, mostly from the early Roman era. There are 24 scenarios, from massive Roman Civil War clashes like Pharsalus to small Punic War cavalry skirmishes. The game sports a broad variety of nationalities and troop types; well-drilled Hellenistic spearmen, fierce mobs of Germanic swordsmen, fast-moving British chariots, and almost always, there are Romans. If all of those prefab battles are not enough, players can quickly build their own scenarios with the easy-to-use scenario editor.

Despite its pedigree, PC FoG plays like a no-frills PC wargame: hex-based, top-down and turn-based. The lack of a miniatures feel is probably fine for most computer jockeys; however, FoG‘s PC-game conventions may disappoint gamers hoping that it would be a good proxy for those hundreds of unpainted lead miniatures in their closet. Still, after the battle starts, even the most grizzled gaming veteran will quickly be charmed by FoG‘s, fast-paced, engrossing game play.

Units represent approximately 500 – 2000 troops, and are portrayed by a top-down view of six miniatures on a stand. All of the troops types you would expect from ancient battles of the early Roman era are there-steadfast Roman legionaries, barbarian swordsmen, javelin-throwing velites, chariots, elephants, archers, and many more. These units are rated for training, impact combat, melee and defense.

Like many Slitherine titles, game-play is easy to learn but harder to master. Both veteran and beginning players will be able to quickly jump right in, fighting major battles without even looking at the very good on-line documentation.

Battles also move quickly in FoG, and the player can easily fight a large battle in the course of an hour. A quick battle before breakfast? A few turns of Pharsalus before taking the dog out for a walk? FoG is that kind of game.

The hex-grid map is nice but a little plain. Simplified terrain like hills, forests, streams and scrub land try desperately to keep the battle fields interesting. While terrain has some effect on the flow of combat, the landscape does not take a prominent role in the outcome of battle.

In FoG, what is more important than hills and trees is the landscape of troop formations and movement. A good general keeps his shield wall together, and uses it like terrain to anchor his attack or defense. Unit facing and training also matters. Well-drilled troops can turn and attack more quickly than mobs. Well-trained legions can earn their pay with a winning tactic that breaks through the enemy line, and then turns to attack the opponent’s rear. When attacked from behind, even the most steadfast shield wall can quickly turn into a routing rabble.

During the player’s turn, he selects a unit to move, and all possible hexes and enemy units to attack are highlighted. The player moves and then attacks with each unit in turn. The interface gives the player some idea of what his chances are of beating the enemy unit before he commits to the attack. A good general quickly learns that combat is less about causing casualties than it is about crushing his opponent’s morale. Units with low morale fight poorly, and when they run they can demoralize the units around them. The winner often takes the field just by causing mass panic in the enemy ranks.

One area where the game falls short in this reviewer’s opinion, is in explaining combat results to the player. To be fair, there is an option to display a detailed combat resolution panel, and there is a great deal of information about combat in the documentation. However, in practice, it was difficult for this old hands-on gamer to understand why one attack only took out 10 enemy, while another took out 200. In miniature games, the player is intimately involved in combat die rolls, so for a game that is trying to keep its miniature heritage, combat resolution in FoG is still too much like traditional PC black box.

But somewhat cryptic feedback is about the only downside to an otherwise good game. The gamer will get plenty of play from an AI that knows how to put up a good fight. The computer opponent knows how and when to use missile troops and keep its flanks secure, and it often goes straight for the jugular. Still, besting the AI just doesn’t feel the same as crushing a live opponent, and players will quickly want more; this is when FoG really shines.

The game comes with a fully integrated multi-player feature. The player can quickly find and challenge other opponents right from FoG‘s menu; no file zipping or emailing needed. Also, since the game is turn based, fighting a human opponent on the other side of the globe is easy. While the multi-player interface does not have all the bells and whistles we could want, it does have most of them.

Overall, Field of Glory continues Slitherene’s tradition of fine-tuned, fast-playing games. FoG is easy to play and learn but more difficult to master. While FoG seems like beer-and-pretzel fare at first glance, the game really has enough depth to please even the most serious grognards. It is an easy recommendation for all skill levels and a great game for those wanting turn-based fights with real opponents. So draw your sword and stand shield-to-shield with some of the legendary battle leaders of the ancient world; destiny is now on your shoulders on your own Field of Glory.

Armchair General Score: 88%

About the reviewer:

Larry Levandowski has been a wargamer for more than 30 years, and started computer gaming back in the days of the C-64. Until he recently discovered the virtues of DOS box and virtual machines, much of his computer game collection was unplayable. A former US Army officer, Larry has done his share of sitting in foxholes. Since leaving the Army, he has worked in the Information Technology field, as a programmer, project manager and lead bottle washer. He now spends his spare time playing boardgames, Napoleonic and WWII miniatures, as well as any PC game he can get his hands on. 

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