Well, it’s about time for Matrix to remind me why I will never, ever paint up those five armies of ancients and medievals I have sitting on the shelf. Yes, this means another DLC for the company’s uber-popular Field of Glory II (FOG2) computer game covering tactical combat from the Biblical era thru the Dark Ages and likely beyond, looking very miniaturish as well. Literally. To remind everyone, FOG2 is a product of Byzantine Games, namely one Richard Bodley Scott, who also designed FOG for tabletop and pewter. This is why FOG2 works and looks (with armies far better than I could ever paint them) exactly like its toy soldier counterpart.
This time, the wolves are at the gates, so let’s stand to and advance to contact.
The Armies Assemble
Wolves at the Gate is the name for the expansion this time around, and seems to be the paper army list books Decline and Fall plus Wolves from the Sea fused into a single digital product. The two books, in turn, were likely based off an old Wargames Research Group classic by Ian Heath called Armies of the Dark Ages 600 – 1066 AD. In other words, this DLC covers the Dark Ages, to include the decline of the Byzantines, the rise of Islam, the Viking scourge, Charlemagne, pretty much all the head bashing that went on in Europe up to 1049 AD. And the end date is really the only difference with Heath’s book. Wolves at the Gate does not go to 1066 and thus does not include Stamford Bridge or Hastings. The next DLC down the pike should cover the Crusades, so we will just have to see if this is where the designer decides to stick 1066 and all that.
But like all DLCs for this franchise, a great deal of what you get for the assumed price of $14.99 (or your non-US equivalent – Ed.) are new armies, new countries and new troop types. In this regard, Wolves at the Gate delivers, to the tune of 19 new national or tribal armies, called “factions” in the game. These are Andalusians, Bulgars, Croatians, Dailami, Fatimids, French, Ghaznavids, Khazars, Khorasanians, Magyars, Moravians, Navarrese, Normans, Pechenegs, Polish, Rus, Scots, Serbians and Vikings.
Supporting these and previously designated factions are 76 new Army Lists; folks like Abbasid Arabs, Late Byzantines, Rus, and all the other likely suspects you’d expect to find roaming the fields in an age where lighting was dim. There are also 55 new units, and I was particularly struck by the amount of Byzantine and Islamic units represented, which are accompanied by some unique units not based on any ethnic affiliation or combat kit, but on the formation they habitually used on the battlefield. In this case I am talking about a couple of listings for Offensive Shield Wall Infantry, a novel concept to be sure. And as for the Byzantines, now we have the opportunity to play an army near and dear to the hearts of Ancients miniature gamers everywhere: Heraclean Byzantine. Why? Because this army has within its ranks the undisputed main battle tank on the hoof of the ancient world, the Klibanophoroi. Think Kataphraktoi on steroids (a lot of steroids) and no, these lads aren’t new, but with this DLC you now have a couple of armies that legitimately used them, and used them a lot. For the non-drilled, Ragnar Lothbrok types, there are also Berserkers, Huscarls and Hirdsmen.
To put these doughty warriors through the paces, Wolves at the Gate contains 74 new quick battles, six new campaigns and six new historical battles. The former includes Arab Conquest, Basil II (Byzantine Resurgence), Charlemagne, Mahmud of Ghazni, Wolves from the Sea (Viking point of view) and Wolves from the Sea again (their victims’ point of view). The battles included are Yarmouk 636 AD (Byzantines vs Arabs), Ashdown 871 AD (Anglo-Saxons vs Vikings), Lechfeld 955 AD (East Franks vs Magyars), Apamea 998 AD (Byzantines vs Fatimid Egyptians), Chach 1001 AD (Indians vs Ghaznavids), Clontarf 1018 AD (Irish and Vikings vs Vikings and Irish).
I would be remiss if I did not say this was one of the only areas of personal disappointment for me. I can agree to disagree not including Hastings, but leaving out Charlie the Hammer and his victory over Islam at Tours in 732 AD just seems odd. There seems to be plenty of information available, and as is made clear from Hans Delbruck to Edward Gibbon, the importance of the battle cannot be understated. Indeed, the latter noted that had Charles Martel failed, “Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.” Likewise, and unless I missed it, I am still eagerly awaiting an Arthurian campaign along the battle of Camlann. Fortunately, the new material in Wolves at the Gate has everything for a modder to rectify the situation, with models and units exquisitely detailed and historically accurate down to the sandal strap level. I know, because I own a copy of Heath and I checked.
Under the Longhouse Roof
The other thing highly touted for this DLC is the concept of allies. It’s a new option for custom battles and here is how it works. When you set up a new battle depending upon the time frame and the opponents selected, the software will given you an option of adding an historical ally to the force pool of either or both antagonists, though obviously you will have to have all the other DLCs installed for everything available. For example, in the test game I ran this weekend, I had 24 turns of hack and slash fun as Medieval Franks 751-887 AD took on Abbasid Arab 874-946 AD. With these two opponents there were no Allies available to the Holy Warriors of Islam, but the UI gave the Franks a choice of three. These were Lombard, Viking and Moravian. I chose the latter and the game produced a combined army list for the Franks and Moravians (Allied units are marked with an asterisk) as if they were one entity. I was able to pick and choose or simply let the AI auto-populate and deploy my combined army. I chose the latter and the game began.
Or didn’t. I waited for about four turns for the Arabs to do something, as I figured that, since a large chunk of my horde was a Defensive Shield Wall, it was likely wise to sit and let the enemy come to me. When they didn’t, I recognized the fear in their eyes and advanced. The first unit I hit was a long line of black robed Moslem infantry that kinda looked like the Ninja Immortals from the movie Three Hundred. And, oddly enough, they were supported by some light infantry chaps who lobbed naphtha grenades (really?) at my infantry line, often killing 24 soldiers a swat. Then two turns into this struggle, a large mounted Moslem flanking force came on board behind my left rear. Although confirming the AI still cheats – really gotta fix that, guys – I gambled I could punch through the Arab line with my stirrup enriched heavy armored cavalry before the flankers could reach me. Did I mention my wife won’t let me within two blocks of a casino when we vacation in Vegas? A smart lady, obviously, but the game was still a hoot anyway.
In any case, playing this contest not only provided me a look at how the new “allies” option works, but also gave me an overall feel for how this DLC played, and yes, it is different. First, it seems the further you move away from the Mediterranean, the more cluttered the battlefield becomes, especially with farmland and forests. One reason for this was Europe becoming more cultivated than it ever was back in 490 BC when Greek Phalanxes had a lot of barren, open real estate in which to deploy. Now, sadly, the Hobbit hovels and the trees only Tyrion Lannister could love are still there, but, hey, you get the picture. Also, more and more units have a nasty little “Undrilled” designation attached to their specs, and this means everybody tends to move slower and they do not turn quickly to face threats. This means complicated battlefield maneuvers will simply not work because a lot of armies are not quick or nimble enough to pull them off.
Similarly, outside state-equipped armies like the Byzantines, there are a lot of troops that come to fight with nary a piece of armor, not even a helmet, to their name, particularly in northern Europe. This means heavy casualties and units that break early, especially when facing missile-heavy armies like the Byzantines and Arabs. Given the complexity of such technological miracles such as the bow and arrow, if you are Frankish or Viking, count on not having a lot, which makes the situation all the worse. Yes, in this DLC, warfare often doesn’t work the way it used to.
Now the rest of the story. The game also comes with a very large update outside of what you see in the formal Wolves at the Gate package. Here we are talking about 20 bug fixes alone, along with numerous other changes that directly impact what happens in battle. Drum roll, because here are a few samples, to include Gameplay with nine changes (eg, Kataphraktoi now get +50 POA for swordsmen capability vs steady Pike, Offensive Spearmen or Defensive Spearmen unless these are defending an obstacle), Unit Cost Adjustments 19 changes (Veteran Dailami Foot – increased from 54 to 60 points), Army List Changes (Greek Armored Cavalry added to Roman 105-25 BC list; huge revamp for Thracians), swamps as a new terrain type, plus UI and AI changes and a whole lot more. You’re talking five-plus pages (note to Matrix – page numbers would be nice) so read or no complaints when you get hammered out of nowhere.
Finishing with a Button
But perhaps the biggest change of this entire package is one few will notice: a button, and it’s found on the Battles menu screen. One up from the bottom is a clickable button that says ‘EMPIRES BATTLE.’ I did click it, and low and behold was told there were no Field of Glory Empires battle data to import or use. In other words, with Wolves at the Gate and its associated update, FOG2 is now ready to integrate with the AGEOD strategy game of the same name. Hopefully this means release of said AGEOD title isn’t that far off as well.
In conclusion, this DLC is well worth the shekels being asked for it. But with Field of Glory Empires integration ready to go in addition, Wolves at the Gate just became an exceptional bargain.