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Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

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Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Tue Sep 06, 2011 12:02 pm

Background

This game, from a small company called Norbsoft Development, is a development of the Take Command series; single-player games which covered the battles of 1st & 2nd Bull Run (Manassas). They were notable in giving you a camera view from your general's saddle in real time, and thus provided some of the experience of an umpired k/spiel. Indeed in certain ways they were superior, since you were operating in well-rendered terrain with hundreds of troops manoeuvring before you, and could see (& hear) the situation as it developed, rather than working from a map and waiting for an umpire to report. This created an excellent fog-of-war, although didn't cover all the bases.

The latest version, on the crucial 1863 battle at Gettysburg, has taken the system into two new areas which are potentially of great interest to kriegsspielers:

(a) you now have the ability to fight multi-player games, and communicate by courier. As in our umpired games, these can be delayed, killed or captured.

(b) As well as about 30 scenarios, drawn from the fighting on July 1st-3rd, there is now a battle-generator, which allows unlimited hypothetical battles, either at Gettysburg or on one of the other battlefields provided.

You can choose between a brigade, division, corps or army-level action. There is also variety in terms of structuring the battle. For a particular side it can be offensive, defensive, or a meeting engagement (with or without random geographical objectives in each case), and with an enemy OOB which can be selected as of similar or unknown strength. This is an excellent feature, and you may find yourself heavily outnumbered and in deep trouble, or timidly edging forwards against what turns out to be a weaker force.
With these additions, the game handles all the umpiring requirements for a typical von Reisswitz kriegsspiel: unpredictable scenario, movement, contact reports, combat, message transmission etc.


Graphics & sound

On a few smaller scenarios the figure scale is actually 1:1, but for most scenarios, and using the battle-generator, the figure ratio is 1:4, with guns at 1:1. Yes armies are finally beginning to look like armies, and in some situations you can see several thousand men on the screen at once.

To achieve this, and to allow the game to run on lower-spec machines, some compromise has been made on the graphics. While there is a fair amount of detail in the uniforms, and not every man in a regiment is dressed (or moves) identically, overall uniform quality and animation are not as good as the most recent games from the Total War series. However, the battlefields are more detailed, more varied and cover a much larger area.

There are also some very nice touches with ambient sights and sounds. There are times when smoke realistically obscures your view of the battlefield. Often your first indication that combat is underway is the sound of distant cannon-fire. Now where precisely is that coming from? Is it Sedgwick on the right, or perhaps Howard in the centre? When things are quiet you may hear birdsong, or martial music and the rhythmic sound of marching feet heralding the approach of one of your columns. I particularly like the buffeting wind which you experience on very high ground. That sort of thing creates great atmosphere and really aids the suspension of disbelief.



The game as history

The importance of terrain is brought out well. In particular, grabbing the high ground first is often key, offering benefits for both fighting and observation.

Once troops are committed it is realistically difficult to extract them, so retaining reserves is important if you are to take advantage of opportunities (eg for flanking), or dealing with the unexpected.

One difference from the Total War series is that you lack instant control of your units, if using the game's 'historical' setting. This is intentional and much more historical. If you command a division or above, you will not have time (or often the knowledge) to micro-manage every regiment. Even as a brigade commander it's not always easy to exercise close control. Smoke may impede visibility. Any orders to an individual regiment must still be physically sent to it which can lose crucial seconds, and I've often seen the poor messenger killed in crossfire along the way.

Operating at higher levels of command, you really experience the chaos of the battlefield. What with smoke, woods, towns and hills blocking line-of-sight, and extended frontages, it becomes very difficult to stay on top of events in your sector, let alone on what's happening elsewhere. Subordinates may occasionally override your orders based on their more immediate knowledge of their own situation, or their personality. Galloping around a lot to see for yourself helps in one way, but can mean important messages are delayed in reaching you. Terrific stuff.

Overall then, I think this is a far more authentic representation of battle than say the recent Shogun Total War 2. It is also a better game


Single-player

You can still play the game in single-player mode, and will find the AI unusually challenging. At least I do! Depending on the particular AI-commanders involved it can attack aggressively, and will often seek out your flank.

Even in single-player mode, the experience is much like that of an umpired game. You issue your orders, see your troops march off, perhaps accompany one column, and wait for reports to come in. With one big difference. There is no downtime, as you can ride around the battlefield while waiting for contact. This is useful to check-out ground over which you may end-up fighting, and also to boost your reconnaissance efforts. We have printed out the period planning maps for each of the available battlefields. Once reports start to come in, we mark them up with washable pans, just as we would at a k/spiel. Once in action, there is always plenty to do, and you sometimes find yourself short of time to send and read messages - which is just as it should be.


Multi-player

Kriegsspielers will want to move quickly on to multi-player. We have now played several games over a LAN (you can also play over the internet), and the game sparkles. In our view the experience is superior to a traditional k/spiel in terms of immersion.

So far three of us have played a number of games where we were on the same side, initially at division/brigade level and then moving up to corps/division, although you can play on opposing sides too. Each player can select the commander they wish to play, and the AI will run any other friendly commanders, and all the enemy ones. You can have a human player take command of the entire force, or slot the humans in at lower levels of command, and let the AI run any army and corps commanders. Any commander not played by a human, acts according to his personality traits, so AI-played commanders have varying levels of skill, aggressiveness etc.

We normally communicate by sending a courier but, as in a normal k/spiel, when two or more players are in the same location we chat directly using Skype. It's all very slick.

We have very occasionally found the game temporarily slowed, but it has never crashed. I suspect this is down to our broadband which is not great (normally c4 meg). I do not know what the maximum number of human players is. I have seen reference to 20-30 on the game forum, but suspect the hosting player needs a very good connection-speed for such numbers.



What could be improved?

There are some on the active games forum who feel that changes need to be made concerning casualty rates, effective weapon ranges, the use of certain infantry tactics, and the ability of cavalry to occasionally charge infantry. These are subjective issues, but the team at Norbsoft appear committed to further developing the game and do seem unusually responsive to suggestions and requests from the community, so some of this may well feed through to future updates.

My main ask is to further improve the courier system. It is in some ways the crowning-glory of the game, but could do with better explanation and its own tutorial, particularly as it is such a novel feature. There are also a few rough edges to it. Although you can use it in single-player mode, several of the functions apply only to the multiplayer game at the moment, but it is not always clear which at first sight. Reports from scouting and patrolling could do with beefing-up, although this is somewhat less of an issue in multi-player, where you have more 'human eyes'. When an AI-controlled general sends you a message, you do not get his location, so the information may be of less use than it should be. In large single-player games, where you are a corps or army commander, you can sometimes be bombarded with messages as every brigade and battery commander reports direct to you, rather than up through the chain of command. That said, as it stands the courier system is a massive improvement over what has gone before, and I can think of no other tactical game with a system that comes close.


In summary

The most obvious comparison is with the Total War series, and in my view Gettysburg is greatly superior. A proper chain of command, realistic constraints on control, much stronger computer AI, historically accurate units, and larger battlefields, mean this is a deeper game with much more history in it.

I unreservedly recommend the game to kriegsspielers. It comes at a reasonable price (c£25/$30 for the download version), is not too demanding in terms of system requirements, and has good and friendly support. An additional battlefield and scenario pack has come out recently for example. Lots of mods are available too. There is simply nothing else like it around as far as I know.

If anyone fancies trying multiplayer, do let me know and let's see if we can get a large game going.

Martin

See more details at http://www.norbsoftdev.net/

Martin

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Gettysburg review - designer's response

Post  Martin on Tue Sep 06, 2011 12:09 pm

I asked Norb Timpko, the game designer, to alert me to any mistakes in the review, and also to give us a a heads-up on what’s due next for the game system..........

This is a wonderful review. Thank you very much.

Just one item that we think should be modified. The solid multi-player game player-count is 10. People have had good games with up to 17 that I've heard, but many times it has died around 45 minutes into the game. There is no limit in the game code though. It will play, but it is so dependent on the server computer speed and internet connection speed that it's just something people have to try for themselves. There's nothing that we can see that's wrong, so all we can say is that they have to run smaller games, as it must just be overloading the connection. Smaller games are very solid though. LAN games are amazing.

We really appreciate your comparisons to Total War. Our players feel the same way, that's all eye candy Smile

As far as a scoop on what we're doing next. We don't like to do that, just because I really hate promising something that we don't deliver. But I will tell you this... we are working on another map pack of a VERY famous Civil War battle. Full maps, OOBs, scenarios.

We are also working on the next major version of the engine, throwing in lots of great features, but a huge focus on performance, this will come some times after the map pack and will also include another major Civil War battle. We will be putting in all the features that we have wanted to do for years. More than likely it will include battle replay for multi-player and single-player battles among other things.

Norb

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  hammurabi70 on Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:18 pm

Most interesting and certainly something I would be keen to explore more. Can we hope that in the future the subject matter might be on the European side of the Atlantic and cover wars such as the Franco-Prussian War?

hammurabi70

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Tue Sep 06, 2011 5:30 pm

Some modders are working on a Napoleonic mod. See here..........

http://www.norbsoftdev.net/index.php?option=com_kunena&func=view&catid=10&id=34767&Itemid=103

Not sure whether there are any plans for a Franco-Prussian version, but in my view the system would cope with that very well.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Ike on Tue Sep 06, 2011 8:31 pm

I've had this game for several months now - not enough time for multiplayer battles tho - and I have found that it is everything Martin has posted and more. I've only played one MP game, division-level against one other human player, and I have to say that the independence of your subordinate units and the exceptionally well-programmed AI in this game make an MP battle even more realistic than K-S. Why? Because your opponent and you are playing as if you truly were the commander of the brigade or division or corps that you've set up the battle to be. Not only is it exceptionally difficult to micro-manage your regiments in battle, above brigade O/C level, it is a waste of time as the AI will cause your regiments to act and react based upon the tactical situation as seen by the AI-controlled O/C of those regiments even if you take the time to micro-manage their targeting, their facing, etc. As a division O/C in the MP game I played, I was (at first) dismayed at how the regiments and brigades would often either ignore my direct commands to them or simply change back to what they were doing before I interferred. As the battle progressed, however, I came to realize that I was supposed to be commanding my division, not leading it. Send orders to my Brigade O/C's and they would obey and maybe it would work out as I wanted and maybe it wouldn't. By the end of the battle, I was simply ordering the brigades to move to and attack or to hold there in reserve and it was marvelously like the written accounts I've read of real world battles in the period. And such fun! The graphics are wonderful if you have a high-end graphics card and they are good to great if you don't, depending upon all the factors which affect how the images look, such as how many troops on the field, how many players in MP, etc.

There are a number of things I'd like to see fixed, but it may be that they don't need fixing. Rather, my ideas of how to fight a wargames battle need to be adjusted to this more 'realistic' PC game. The developers couldn't be more helpful and straight-forward than they are. A recent addition to the game program was the addition of a mini-campaign called "Pipe Creek" which is rather a 'what-if', wherein Gen. Meade falls back upon the Pipe Creek terrain he'd previously had surveyed and waits for the Army of Nothern Virginia to 'catch' him in a previously surveyed and partially prepared defensive position. (For a fictional account of the reverse of the Pipe Creek, see Gingrich's trilogy "Gettysburg")

When I have more time for gaming, I expect to enter into the MP battles and look forward to it a great deal.

Ike

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Wed Sep 07, 2011 7:15 pm

Glad you're enjoying it too Ike.

I've recently got the "Pipe Creek" battlefield/map pack myself, and it's a good addition to the game. Cost me about £7.50 in the UK. The three new battlefields are each 5 miles x 5 miles, so you have quite a bit of room to manoeuvre.

The terrain on them reminds me a lot of that on the Meckel k/spiel map - lots of hills and narrow valleys. It's quite easy to approach (or be approached) unobserved. Unlike Meckel though, this is all real countryside.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Ike on Thu Sep 08, 2011 1:25 am

And there is a modding program for those who like to modify. Not my cuppa, as I haven't the brains anymore, but there is a lively 'modder' group there of players who have written mods to the program. Overall, I'd give Gettysburg 8.5 out of 10. Cavalry need to be tweaked or something so they can charge infantry from the rear or flanks and also something need be done so cavalry can be used in MP for scouting (with couriers returning to the player - his O/C avatar in the game - with a report of an estimate of enemy strength and some idea of location. Those are about the only two things I'd like really to see, but other players have a longer list!

Ike

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Wed Sep 14, 2011 12:57 pm

One thing I should have mentioned before. There is a playable demo for this game. You download the complete game, and you have access to various tutorial scenarios for free. If you then want to buy, you are emailed a code which gives you access to the whole game.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Pete Maidhof on Tue Nov 15, 2011 6:19 pm

I have been toying around with the demo tutorials the past few days. Before I took the plunge and purchased, I wondered if there were a few like-minded people here who either have been playing the grognard "HQ in the Saddle" Multi-Player or would like to try and set something up online.

R/
Pete

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Wed Nov 16, 2011 10:29 am

I definitely would Pete, and I think I can rustle up a couple of others. We have all played "HQ in the Saddle" Multi-Player on the "historical" setting, using couriers.

Where are you based? The main issues would be timing and connection speeds. Whoever has the best broadband connection should host the game.

Hopefully this exchange might encourage others to join in too.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Pete Maidhof on Wed Nov 16, 2011 1:44 pm

Hi Martin,

I have a cable internet connection and am in New York, so GMT-5.

In years gone by, I took part in a number of TacOps cpx's (many if not all with James Sterrett) which involved a number of people all over the globe during any given game.

I have not yet played any SoW:G multi-player.

Pete

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Thu Nov 17, 2011 1:31 pm

Hi Pete

We're in the UK, but a 4 or 5 hour difference should be doable at weekends. If you could play say one afternoon, we could play in the evening our time. Or something like that?

Your experience with James should give you a head start. From my memories of TacOps with him, you should find SoW:G slightly more sedate Cool

If you're up for it, suggest you get the game and play a few scenarios before we try it MP. I'll alert the other two players (my youngest son and one of his friends). They are both at university, so should be pretty flexible re timing, except when exams are looming.

In our previous games we have all played on one side, usuallly with one player as CinC, and communicating by courier if we are not in the same place, and on skype if we are. This takes some of the pressure off, and makes it a more cooperative excercise. Perhaps we could then move to a couple of teams as we become more experienced and hopefully accumulate more players.

We use a WAN emulator (Hamachi) although there are other methods of getting hooked-up. What's your connection speed btw? Mine is effectively only about 4 meg. Being on cable, and being in the USA, your's may be better. If so, we could get you to host the game.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Pete Maidhof on Thu Nov 17, 2011 6:28 pm

Hi Martin,

I got the full game yesterday and played a Union infantry brigade commander. I was tasked with blocking confereate use of a road. Spent most of the entire time chasing confederate artillery batteries and small horse detachments that I presumed were arty spotters.

I'll need to continue playing to get down some of the interface. During the artillery and cavalry tutorials, I had people and horses going every which way. I need more work for some of those specialties.

Cooperative sounds very good.

Couldn't figure out my connection speed on this computer, which is relatively new, but have not come across any speed problems.

I'll keep you posted as far as how I progress. Please let me know when your players next "play" and perhaps I'll be able to take a low role in order to get the courier/HitS system down.

Thanks again,

Pete

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Martin on Thu Nov 17, 2011 8:31 pm

Yes please do keep me posted Pete. I'll find out when the boys' exams are. Maybe we could try something in about a month, as they should be through things by then, and that will give you more time to get used to the game?

We normally play sandbox (ie hypothetical) games by the way, so we don't know what we're facing, in true k/spiel fashion! Happy to play a scenario instead though, if you’d prefer. We also usually play with a hierarchy, so you can certainly start off as a brigade or divisional commander if you wish, with someone higher up to give you some support & guidance. The team-play aspect is very enjoyable. Sending & receiving messages, and the occasional battlefield meetings are among the highlights of the game for me.

Do continue to work through the tutorials. They are increasingly enjoyable as you move to the higher levels of command. I have very good memories of getting comprehensively hammered in the corps-tutorial.

Martin

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Re: Finally a kriegsspiel on the PC? Gettysburg: Scourge of War review

Post  Pete Maidhof on Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:15 pm

Martin,

Sandbox sounds great. I will continue to play around with game to develop my 19th century tactical skills Smile

At this point I would like to start as a Bde commander in a coop setting.

Please let me know when everyone on your end is home from exams and ready to give this a "go".

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