Back in the early 90’s when I was a young teenager, you’d often find me with my eyes glued to the computer screen as I was playing one of my favorite strategy games; Defend the Alamo. The game was developed by a small one man studio called Incredible Simulations, later known as ISI Games, then Jeff Lapkoff Games, and finally renamed to Digital Gameworks. The man behind the studio was Jeff Lapkoff, an indie developer who has interest in historical battles.
Defend the Alamo was Jeff’s first foray into historical strategy games, and he hit it out of the ballpark. The game was simple, yet highly addictive, as you couldn’t put it down or walk away from it. It focused on the Battle of the Alamo, where one hundred and eighty three Texans stood fast against a Mexican army of thousands. It used a unique tactical system that I rarely saw in strategy games of the time, whereby it allowed you to command individual squads in a real time strategy simulation.
Since that amazing release, Digital Gameworks has made a veritable onslaught of other hits such as; Custer’s Last Command, recently renamed as Desperate Glory; ZuluWar!, Red Thunder and lastly one of my favorite titles, The Drift 1879. The latter is one of my favorite titles because it focuses on the battle of Rorke’s Drift, which has been immortalized by the movie Zulu. [ED: Told you. Best film ever made.]
Digital Gameworks has been releasing games since 1993, and now in 2017 they have released the latest installment in their wargame lineup called Patriot Battles. This new game is very different than the rest as it focuses on the American Revolution and utilizes a modified combat system that differs than their previous games. This new combat system imposes a variety of restrictions on the player that, in my opinion, diminishes the game’s potential.
The first system that I had trouble adapting to was the command points. In previous games like Defend the Alamo, or Custer’s Last Command, the player was able to move all units or squads and not be regulated on which ones to move due to a command point system. In Patriot Battles you’re given a small number of command points. Based on that figure you have to decide which units you wish to move because you don’t have enough to move them all.
Throughout the game I was more frustrated and annoyed by this system as opposed to considering it a positive factor. What I want in a game is to be the overall supreme commander of my forces, a kind of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and this command point system drastically diminishes that. Imagine this, you’re Eisenhower, it’s June 7th 1944, D-Day +1, and you want to move four infantry brigades toward Caen and take the town. But as you issues orders for the units your adjutant says “Sorry Sir, we only have enough command points to move three brigades not four”.
The next part of the combat system that I’m not a fan of is the map size, which is set to a 16 x 9 hex grid. This dramatically affects playing a battle, as it removes key pieces of terrain that I would consider to be vital. It also limits a number of key elements that is needed to fight a tactical engagement, such as key leaders and historic units that can alter the outcome. Due to the maps small size you cannot include these elements into the game.
Take for example the Battle of Brandywine, whereby approximately 14,600 Americans engaged 15,500 British forces near Philadelphia, PA. In the actual battle there were numerous divisions on the field, led by such notable commanders as Nathaniel Greene, Anthony Wayne, John Sullivan, and on the British side, Cornwallis, Carl Von Donop, and Knyphausen. All of these commanders had great impact on the battles they fought, but in this game you only get to utilize George Washington and William Howe. Even legendary units such as The 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, or Delaware Regiment, are not present in the game, instead they are replaced with generic ‘Continental Infantry’ or ‘PA Militia’.
Now regarding the other critical elements of the game such as graphics and sound effects, they are sufficient. I don’t expect much in the way of graphics when playing a top down 2D strategy game, as long as the developer adds some effects to represent a unit firing or surrendering that’s enough for me, which this game does. In regards to sound, I think I can count on one hand how many actual sound effects are in the game. They cover the major ones like audio for when a unit fires a volley, cannon thundering, or when a unit marches to another hex. There is even a pleasant musical piece when you launch the game, but besides that don’t expect much more.
Patriot Battles comes with a scenario editor: I really appreciate that the developer took the time to add this feature into the game, as it extends the longevity of my time with it. The only recommendation I would offer is for the developer to add a community section to their website so as to provide the community and players a place where they can share their custom developed battles.
In conclusion, Patriot Battles is an acceptable Revolutionary War wargame. Is it my favorite? No. It would have been a amazing game but unfortunately due to the map constraints, and command system, I have a hard time recommending it. The major redeeming feature to justify its $20.00 price tag is the scenario editor. So until those two critical elements are redesigned I think I’m going to spend my time playing The Alamo or The Drift 1879. To be honest, there are so many great games from Digital Gameworks that coming across an average one was bound to happen eventually.