Monday, February 06, 2006

Birth of America Preview

Birth of America Preview, developed and published by Ageod.
The Good: Tons of strategy, respectable tutorial, no economy to worry about, realistic forces and terrain
The Not So Good: Objectives could be more clear, map can get messy and confusing to new players, no scenario editor (yet)

America is one of the greatest countries in the world (second only to the Federated States of Micronesia), but it wasn’t so long ago that we were ruled with an iron fist by Daddy England, which has since split up into the countries of Daddy, England, and the Ukraine. The American Revolutionary War, or, as the Britons call it, the Persian Gulf War, was a tumultuous time where Mel Gibson ran around killing people wearing red coats single handedly. Despite this confirmed historical fact, Ageod has developed Birth of America, a game that involves more than just one man fighting for their country, where you order troops around and capture territory. There haven’t been many Revolutionary War era games (I can only think of American Conquest off hand), and since we’re all sick of World War II by now, it’s nice to see a game branch into newer territory.

Birth of America takes place on a map of the thirteen colonies that has a hand-drawn feel to it. It is a nice touch, although the map can become busy and confusing. It certainly has a nice, historical feel to it that adds to the gameplay. There are some things that could be more clearly represented, such as important objective locations (they are indicated by a star that is sometimes hard to pick out); there are some filters so that you can color the map by state boundaries or territory ownership. It is also sometimes difficult to determine the size of friendly and opposing forces by just looking at the icon; you must mouse over and find how many troops are involved. There aren’t many sounds to speak of in the preview version of the game (around 20), but we’re not looking for great sound effects in a board game-like title.

Birth of America covers two conflicts in 18th Century North America: the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War. The war is fought out over a map divided into a large number of regions representing early America. Birth of America is a turn-based game where you issue orders and both sides move one month at the same time. The final version will include 14 scenarios (with three grand campaigns) covering both wars. You can play against the formidable AI or by e-mail versus real human competition. Most scenarios involve capturing a set number of objective cities, and the first side to control all of their objectives wins. If neither side wins before the scenario time limit is reached, victory points determine the winner. A scenario editor will likely be issued a month or so after the initial release. Each of the regions in the game belongs to a state, and the states in the game are important for raising militias to complement your fighting forces. All of the regions are rated according to their development, spanning from harsh wilderness to civilized land. Regions are also classified according to terrain, such as forests and swamps, and can contain a structure, like a city or fort. Weather also affects combat; it is much harder to move and supply your troops in six feet of snow. The game features three types of units (combat, support, and leaders) that are used to capture territory and fight battles. Leaders are used to make combat units more effective, and can provide a bonus or special ability to the troops, for example entrenching or moving faster. The leader that has the highest rank in a group will be the overall commander, although the special abilities of lower officers can be used. Each group of units is assigned a posture, which determines their behavior. One of the problems I’ve had with global strategy games in the past is that opposing units automatically fight if they occupy the same territory. This just doesn’t seem right: who’s to say that troops 50 miles apart should automatically fight? Birth of America solves this problem with defensive and passive postures: if opposing units are either defensive or passive, they will not automatically engage enemy units in the same region. Only when set to assault or aggressive will they fight for freedom. Combat in the game is automatically resolves based on the stats of the units involved and any special abilities and skills garnered by the leaders. Other than just simply telling your units to move to a new territory, you can issue additional orders to them, such as building forts or depots (areas for supplies), ambushing the enemy, attacking besieging forces (a sortie), or entrenching. Like most strategy games, fog of war is in full force, and you can only see units in adjacent regions. The accuracy of the information on enemy units is dependent on how loyal the residents of that region are to your cause: Torries are more likely to provide truthful data to the British. Supply is also an important part of the game, and is automatically taken care of, similar to Supreme Ruler 2010. You can assign supply units to an extremely large stack, but it’s not necessary.

Birth of America plays very similar to Europa Universalis, mainly because it’s developed by the person who made Europa Universalis (I wondered why it was so much alike). That game was great, so it bodes well for the finished version of Birth of America. The game looks pretty complete in this preview version, and it’s a global strategy game that can rival EU, Hearts of Iron, or any of the other big titles. New players may find the initial learning curve a little steep, but at least you don’t need to worry about maintaining an economy; I was never one for worrying about tax levels anyway. We’ll see if it all comes together for Birth of America when it is released in late February.