The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was a crucial historical event involving all of northern Europe, great parts of North America and India. Its conclusion set the stage for both the American and French revolutions, the second British Empire and securing Prussia’s role as a major player in European politics. Oddly, no strategy game has taken an in-depth look at this conflict. Paradox’s Europa Universalis IV and Sega’s Empire: Total War take almost abstract approaches to this war while AGEOD’s Rise of Prussia only deals with individual campaigns.
The subject deserves more detailed analysis. Fortunately, one man, Oliver Keppelmüller, spent years making an extremely detailed RTS game of the war – so detailed that a review needs to be divided between the strategic campaign mode and the tactical battles.
Layer upon Layer
The campaign mode allows play as Britain, Austria, France, Prussia and Sweden. Each has a campaign starting in 1750 and going through 1763 and a campaign beginning in 1756 and finishing the war. On top of this are country-specific shorter scenarios, e.g. Britain’s crisis in North America. The goals for all of these are unique to the country. Hence, Britain need only run the French out of North America while Prussia must fight hard to survive. The tools of play reside in several levels of panels. For instance, opening the financial panel reveals further panels of action. Handling these levels becomes second nature after some hours of play.
The key to successful campaigning is not moving troops around but finance. Under-supplied and unpaid soldiers and sailors don’t fight well and tend to desert. The Seven Years War handles money through a very detailed supply and demand system that, unfortunately, brings up a negative aspect of the game – graphics. Resources and how buildings and cities deal with them use graphics that reach back about fifteen years. The twenty-nine resources and product icons are not all that clear. Players should use windowed mode so they can ALT-TAB back to the better illustrations in the sixty-page manual. The font on the tool tips are so small that the Virtual Magnifying Glass is needed to read it as are the figures on spread sheets, production bars and price adjustment bars.
The production chain resembles that of Civilization III: resources are exploited by building mines, farms and so forth but these facilities need resources themselves. Products are brought to cities and trading outposts by traders and merchant ships. These traders and ships move automatically around the map looking for the best deals. Although their profits go directly to the player, traders may ignore the country’s own products if they are overpriced, making production irrelevant. Adjusting prices and demand priorities in cities influence traders indirectly and aid cities.
Cities are also crucial to population morale. Factors like religion, health and level of corruption contribute to happiness. Players can influence these factors by building “Feel Good” facilities such as schools, doctors’ offices and forts. A high level of happiness allows for tax increases. Cities are also where soldiers are recruited and ships for the fleets are built.
Some financial problems cannot be solved by the domestic economy alone. This game has era-specific responses to the red on the balance sheet. Loans are possible if the country’s credit is good. If repayment is impossible, defaulting on loans balances the accounts but has negative foreign and domestic repercussions. Currency debasement aids the treasury but displeases the populace through inflation.
Finances can also be supplemented by diplomacy. Of the twelve nations open for interaction, neutral and friendly ones have base diplomatic points amounts in peacetime to be used for trade agreements of goods, technology and other items. Agreements can be one-way or bilateral. Nations can give and receive subsidies while allied nations can embark on joint military action. Diplomatic points can change through historical events, by making agreements or fluctuations in relations. The currency for diplomacy with enemies are victory points earned by winning battles, taking cities and being a general nuisance to the other side. These points can arrange prisoner exchanges and province annexation.
The general status of a nation can be enhanced via research and government policy. New technology can yield better production and new weapons. Policies can decrease corruption and initiate popular reforms. If all of the above seems a bit much for a wargamer, never fear. The military focus option turns all of the civilian functions over to the AI, leaving players to concentrate on why they bought the game – imposing their will on the world.
On the March
The canvas for the gathering of forces is a simple but useful map showing rivers, cities, forts, roughly drawn forests, mountains and major roads, Friendly borders are drawn in blue, neutral in white and enemy in red. Unique to North America are Native American villages whose inhabitants, if receiving balanced trade, can become valued allied skirmishers but become a threat if aggravated. Forces moving across this terrain are represented by small animated infantrymen with two vertical bars for supply and health. These forces represent divisions composed of brigades and regiments. The uniforms for the regiments as shown in the hierarchy tree appear to be accurate, if small. When selected via a left click or the force overview panel, a broad circle appears around the division indicating the area where traders and supply trains can automatically be intercepted by standing order and when supply in enemy territory can be augmented through looting and plundering. Regiments, brigades and commanders can be mixed and matched using click and drag. Fleets are very similar with orders to attack enemy merchants, war fleets or patrol. Ports for supply or repair can be set. Players can become very busy during play so the ability to enter orders when the game is paused is welcome.
Movement can be as simple as selection and a single right-click on the final destination but savvy players will want to set a route made up of right click waypoints. While moving, divisions draw supplies from cities and depots in friendly provinces. Supply becomes more strained the farther units move and having more than one division drawing from the same source makes matters worse. The AI doesn’t help by continually moving to interdict the supply line. During movement or production, notifications of events around the world pop up. Clicking on them moves the camera to the event.
Forces have two goals: capture enemy cities and destroy enemy armies. The former goal is achieved by moving adjacent to a city, bringing up the dark brownish siege panel. This panel resembles a contemporary woodcut with siege positions and lines. Sieges require a base camp, trenches and artillery positions marked by almost invisible dark spots. Sappers appear to create these positions indicated by a swirling white line. Dragging and dropping troops into camp can speed the build time. Positions creep every closer to the city walls as the garrison becomes hungry and low on ammunition from firing on the besiegers. Finally, an assault can bring the siege to an end if winter attrition or a relief column doesn’t. An auto-siege function relieves players from much grunge work.
Fighting enemy armies is a simple as right clicking on them. When the two armies meet, a 3D tactical map is constructed and play goes to battle mode to be described in detail in Part II. Worth noting is that another friendly division in the area can appear during the battle as reinforcements.
The full The Seven Years War campaign mode is recommended only for hard-core nation builders but the Military Focus mode, aided by a delightful soundtrack, should suit any gamer interested in the period. The largest complaint other than the eye-straining graphics is the fragmented documentation. The in-game tutorial, PDF manual, website tutorial and YouTube videos all explain the concepts well but are thin on explaining which buttons to use. If the tool-tip font was cleared, this problem could be alleviated.
As is, the jewel of the game may be the historical and custom battles which I will talk about in Part II.