Pike and Shot – PC Game Review
Pike and Shot. PC Game. Game Designer: Richard Bodley Scott; Developed by Byzantine Games and The Lordz Games Studio. Published by Slitherine, Ltd and Matrix Games, Inc. Price: $29.99 digital download; $44.99 boxed edition and digital download.
Passed Inspection: Artfully done graphics, great AI, high replay value
Failed Basic: No campaign mode, sometimes clunky player interface, no leaders
Pike and Shot is an involving, compelling and, dare I say it, educational turn-based game which explores the 300 years long (and sadly overlooked by electronic game developers) “pike and shot” era of European warfare.
The pike and shot of the game’s title refers to the era of European warfare which covers the time from Charles VIII of France’s invasion of Italy, which started the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559) through the Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) and into the English Civil Wars (1642–1651). By the very early eighteenth century, the bayonet came into wide use, ending the need for pikes and other pole-arm weapons on the battlefield. During the pike and shot era, infantry operated in mixed formations of pikemen and men armed with “shot” weapons, such as the harquebus; thus, the name. This was the period when, as Scottish General Robert Monro, of Clan Munro (d. 1680) stated: “horse, foote and artillerie” started to work closely together in a combined arms force, and battles were decided by the push of the pike or a charge by pistol-wielding cavalry.
Pike and Shot has some gorgeous and effective graphics. Based on period illustrations, the graphics have a nice historical feel as well. The mixed infantry formations, with their upright pikes, artillery batteries and cavalry units cannot be mistaken for anything else. The various nationalities are marked out by colorful national flags waving above the formations. Passing the mouse over a unit brings up a lot of useful information, like type and nationality of unit, what kind of ground it is on, what and how many of any weapon type it has and so on. When a unit fires, proper puffs of smoke appear and there are some nice sound effects as well.
The maps are equally as well done and have the same nice historical feel as the units do. Mousing over an area tells you the terrain type, and elevation. It is a bit hard to pick out the difference between clear ground with a few trees and rough ground. But that is a minor point, as the rest of the terrain types (forest, water, hillsides, towns, etc) are easily distinguished.
The players’ view of the battleground is easily manipulated with the mouse. Moving the mouse to the edge of the map moves the view, the wheel is used for zooming in or out, and the map is rotated by using the arrow keys. There is a small strategic map, but moving around is so easy, I basically ignored it.
Pike and Shot has 4 nicely informative tutorial scenarios which cover the finer points of the game. It also has 30 historical scenarios; ten each from the Italian Wars, the Thirty Years War and the English Civil Wars. In the historical battles your force is mostly fixed, but you may sometimes buy more units. The historical scenarios can only be played from one side. Unit placement is usually fixed, with only a few scenarios letting players reposition their formations before the start of the battle. If the 30 historical battles is not enough replay value for you, then Pike and Shot also has a skirmish mode, where the player can quickly put together a do-it-yourself battle. There is also a full-blown scenario editor available, if you really want to get into building your own battles, literally from the battleground up.
Alas and alack, the game has no campaign mode. But it does have a robust play by e-mail (PBEM) multi-player mode.
There are five difficulty settings from the easiest at Captain, through Colonel, Sergeant Major General, Lieutenant General, to the hardest at Captain General. In most scenarios the difficulty level will adjust the size of force available to the player. At Captain and Captain General levels the quality of the enemy force is altered as well.
There are no individual leaders represented in the game. This seems a bit of an oversight considering leadership was an important factor in this time period. Also the depth of play would have been enhanced by having to position and move leaders on the battlefield to rally broken units or launch and lead a cavalry charge at the right moment.
You select your units with a left mouse click and then can move, change facing, shoot or charge using a right mouse click. All these actions use up precious action points, so it is highly unlikely a formation will be able to do more than one or two of them in a turn. To attack, you right click on an in-range enemy unit. If you can shoot or charge, two select action boxes appear (a gun or crossed sabers). The player then right-clicks the action he wants his unit to take. It is here the interface is a bit clunky: if you move too quickly you will shoot instead of charge, or move instead of change facing. A more friendly way to select actions, like a standard drop-down menu, would have been nice.
Combat results in causalities for both attacking and defending units, which then leads to a loss of a unit’s cohesion or morale. Formations start at steady. Then, when in combat and depending on a number of factors—such as experience or if they are subject to a flank attack—units descend through levels of cohesion from steady, to disrupted to fragmented and then to broken/routing. A single attack will sometimes reduce the morale of a formation but not often and very rarely by more than a single step, although a charge by powerful forces from the rear or flank may sometimes fragment or rout a unit in a single move.
Once units engage in a melee they cannot detach at will, but rather must fight until their morale is reduced and they retreat or rout or if the enemy unit retreats or routs first. If a unit routs the attacking enemy formation will chase the routing unit, even off the map. A pursuing unit will not accept any new orders until the chase is complete. However, they will attack enemy units that get in the way of their pursuit.
The AI is more Gustav II Adolf of Sweden and less Frederick V of Bohemia. Every battle I played, even at the Colonel and Sergeant Major General levels, was hard fought and a few times I was handed my head on a pike.
The well-balanced victory conditions vary by scenario but are generally based on routing and dispersed enemy formations, rather than on causalities and outright unit destruction.
The pace of the game is rather stately and chess-like rather than rushed and frenetic. Pike and Shot plays out much like battle in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries actually did, moving no faster than the marching pace of a pikeman or the trot of a horse. This measured speed gives the player an actual chance to think about his moves before making them.
Pike and Shot could easily be used to teach a course on Early Modern warfare with the progression from the Italian Wars through to the English Civil Wars, demonstrating the evolution of weapons and tactics as European warfare moved from edged weapons and polearms to handheld guns and cannons.
Pike and Shot is a great game, entertaining and informative with high replayability, and it is a great value as well. So level your pike or shoulder your harquebus and join the fun.
Armchair General Score: 94%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He has an article in November’s Sci Phi Journal. His website is: swordscrollandscreen | History, Games, Opinions