Ironclads: Schleswig War 1864 – PC Game Review
Ironclads: Schleswig War. PC Game. Publisher/Developer: Totem Games. $19.95.
Passed Inspection: Great graphics, challenging AI, realistic physics, nice interface, neglected topic, useful battle editor
Failed Basic: No multi-play, lack of weather and land, no morale factor, only covers half of the conflict.
Hull planks and gun ports are shown down to holes and scorch marks from hits
Neglected conflicts are often the most interesting ones to game. Few people know about the second Schleswig-Holstein conflict of 1864, not to mention that it had a very interesting naval component. The conflict was officially between Denmark and the German Confederation, but Prussia and Austria did the heavy lifting for the Germans. Naval actions were fought in two stages: Prussian attempts to break the Danish blockade in the Baltic and the later Austrian effort to control approaches to Denmark in the North Sea. Ironclads Schleswig War depicts only the Baltic action, leaving the much tenser North Sea struggle for a future game.
The game is available by download from Totem Games. Activation requires a one-time exchange of emails; answers from Totem Games are timely. The game is DRM-free.
Down to the Seam Caulk
Ship graphics are excellent with spars, rigging, smoke stacks, deck guns and hatches finely detailed. Hull planks and gun ports are shown down to holes and scorch marks from hits. Fires blaze and ships turn turtle. Stack and gun smoke are persistent and drift realistically; most interesting is the ripple fire from the broadsides of larger ships. Pivot guns track targets. Damage graphics could be enhanced, however, by showing falling spars and holed stacks. Hovering the mouse tip over ships shows speed and damage percentage in a pop-up. New to this game is a percent-to-hit number in pop-ups over enemy ships. An info panel at the bottom of the screen displays data on such as flooding amounts, current and maximum ship and group speeds as well as gun number, position and type. Wakes and bow waves change with vessels’ speeds and courses. Strangely for the Baltic, the sea state is always smooth. Zooming in and out, rotating and tilting views give players the ability to either look at the big picture or be on the same level as the crews.
Sound effects are more than adequate. Guns boom and, zoomed in, fires crackle and roar. The music is nice but can be turned down or off with the config file in the game folder.
Shovel All the Coal In
The arcade level of play allows quick maneuver and rapid rate of fire; fun but ahistorical. The normal and historic levels of play replicate how the vessels of the period handled. Speed changes come into effect slowly, representing crude coal-powered steam engines. Collisions occur frequently and require one of the vessels involved to stop; therefore, slowness in reversing speed can foul a battle line. Changing directions is accomplished quicker by turning in increments than by a radical turn at high speed. Rate of fire is slow, but these guns were large muzzle-loaders requiring large crews. Therefore, some chances for good shots are missed due to reload times. Judicious use of the "Hold Fire" button can alleviate this problem.
Damage from shot and shell can affect either side of waterlines. Deck hits can cause fires and wreck guns while shots below cause flooding and engine damage. Crews will attempt to repair damage, but ships with around 60% damage attempt to leave the battle. Using small, fast vessels to sink enemy cripples is a good idea. Battles end after a few hours or if all ships of one side sink or run. Time can be accelerated only if ships maintain enough distance for safe maneuvering.
Broadside vs. Pivot
Five types of ships in nine variations are provided: gunboats, corvettes, frigates, monitors and turret ships. None are ironclads in the usual sense but some have armor belts. Seven different guns are used, with specifications provided in the six-page pdf manual. In both the campaign and custom games players are given a set amount of money to buy and repair ships. Custom battles allow choices from all types, but, in the campaign, players can choose only two types at first, working their way up after successful engagements have given them more money. When buying ships, players must strike a balance between quantity and quality. Two large frigates can deal out a lot of damage but can be swarmed by pesky gunboats.
The frigate-over-gunboat choice has fascinating implications. Frigates and corvettes have several broadside guns, exhibited well with rippling fire. Gunboats usually have only two or three guns, but they are large-caliber pivot guns that allow more flexible arcs of fire. Granted, a gunboat caught by a broadside quickly becomes a wreck. Yet, by dancing away from a fixed broadside, the little guys can slam large shells into the bruisers with impunity.
Ships are arranged in squadrons of up to five. Orders are transmitted to the lead ship and the rest of the squadron follows. Tactics again represent the transitional nature of the period. Full five-ship squadrons can act as traditional lines of battle but give up a degree of maneuver. More squadrons of less than five give players more tactical flexibility, especially with gunboats. Players should opt for more flexibility or suffer the AI’s free-wheeling sting.
Certain aspects of Ironclads Schleswig War are disappointing. There is no multi-play option. Land and weather are not represented. The Prussian navy wasn’t all that great while the Danes were good. The lack of a morale factor is obvious here. Given that the Austrian fleet was better, we hope to see the North Sea campaign soon. Until then, the Baltic is enjoyable enough.
Armchair General score: 83%
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 deals 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, Ganesquad and Gaming Chronicle. One of his obsessions is both Schleswig-Holstein Wars, having several first editions of the latest works on the topic.