Oliver Keppelmüller, designer of The Seven Years War, understands that gamers enjoy many levels of play. He designed a mode for coping with all elements of a nation state but wargamers want to smell gunpowder. For them, he created three different tactical modes: campaign battles for when two enemies meet during a campaign, historical battles to simulate actual events and a custom battle creator for those gamers who like to roll their own and experiment with different parameters.
Fifes, Drums and Stately Gaits
Fortunately, the graphics for battle are much improved over the regular campaign map. Animated individual soldiers in accurate uniforms are clearly seen when zoomed in.
Formations wheel and move in the way William H. McNeil describes in Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. Smoke from volleys cover the field and big blue arrows show unit routes with green areas delineating facing determined by movement direction or by depressing a mouse button and rotating the mouse. Terrain is beautiful with the ground and swells colored in seasonal tones and forests standing out. Villages and streams add a period feel to the surroundings. The fieldworks soldiers can be ordered to construct are quite visible. Weather can shed a bright or gloomy feel as well as affecting play. Sound effects reflect not only battle but weather and seasons. Seasons can also influence the length of battles as winter brings daylight to a quick end. Views can be rotated ninety degrees or by moving the mouse to a screen corner; four such views can be saved for reference.
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Units are seen in a hierarchy of divisions, brigades and regiments. Each of these entities is marked by flags of differing sizes. Clicking on a flag, a unit in the field or in the hierarchy chart brings up layers of panels. Entire divisions can be ordered forward with a right click. However, the levels of orders necessary for success demand other panels. The formation panel has the old familiar line, column and square. These standbys are then divided into single and double lines as well as march columns versus shock columns. Skirmish doesn’t mean small formations shielding the main line but lines less compact than usual. Batteries can limber and unlimber.
Pressing the orders buttons bring up a tier of more detailed options. Units down to the regiment level can be told to melee, fast march, advance while still being able to fire, build barricades, have the band strike up music to pump up morale and bother the enemy (Sharpe fans will appreciate “O’er the Fields and Far Away” is in the repertoire)[Officially the best TV show in history -ED], charge, fall back and regroup. The difference between melee and charge is that the former can be directed at specific foes while the latter go after the unit directly in front of them; units cannot fire in these close combat moves. More panels provide data on unit status, commanders, weapons and terrain; these panels can be stacked on top of the order panels for easy reference.
Flags do more than just being tags for formations. As units become fatigued and take casualties, morale drops. The color of flags indicates the level of morale. Players should use the slower game speed setting to monitor this factor and pull units back before they rout. Morale makes the difference between victory and defeat. No army will hang around to be annihilated so the troops’ fighting spirit is the measure of success. Routed regiments can be rallied but the number of times this can be done depends on the quality of the regimental commanders; brigade and divisional commanders can only indirectly enhance the number of rally commands subordinate commanders can give.
These tactical commands and information panels are similar to other tactical games. What sets them apart from those and the first part of this game’s manual is the detailed illustration of which toggle-able button does what. Using ALT-Tab to access the manual relieves players of the necessity of reading the tiny tool tips.
For Each a Purpose
Given that all tactical battles use the same mechanics with minor exceptions between those in the base game and those added in the two DLCs, what sets the categories of campaign, historical and custom apart? Plenty! The purpose of the campaign battles are woven into the fabric of the entire campaign. The designer has many “hidden” battles for the campaign that take into account the location where the armies meet; hence, the terrain in Poland will be much different than that along the Rhine or Canada. The forces involved will vary in composition, quality and supply depending on what happened on the campaign level before the clash. Morale, casualties, experience, and prisoners are carried over to the campaign itself, creating either the necessity or the opportunity to create or reorganize armies. The Prussians especially run the danger of losing the war through Pyrrhic victories.
The allure of the twelve historical battles is obvious: players want to test themselves in the real situation. Given the accurate OoB and field, the possibility of a different outcome or at least doing better is possible. Clever use of the order options makes a reversal of outcome thinkable. However, the AI is better than some of the historic generals. For instance, the Plains of Abraham scenario sees the French calmly waiting for the British advance instead of rushing into Redcoat double-load as actually happened. The preoccupation with Fredrick II is obvious with Prussia fighting eight battles with various antagonists with Britain a distant second fighting in the remaining four.
Custom battles serve two purposes. The usual one allows players to set up dream battles. This game makes this activity very easy Troops can be put in armies of up to five divisions and deployed on terrain types covering areas from North America to the Baltic for any year of the war. Armies can start battles from three different distances with eight different temperatures and weathers. Players can manually populate the divisions of their armies by dragging and dropping regiments from their and their opponent’s available troops into boxes. A nice alternative is to select a side and click the army auto-deploy function. An even quicker method to create French versus Prussian battles is to click the global auto-deploy button.
The second reason to do a custom battle is that Sweden is not in any historical battle. Swedish troops and terrain are in The Pomeranian War DLC but a campaign must be set up and played to see the Swedes do their stuff. A custom battle allows player to test Swedish mettle in the field.
The Seven Years War may not have the polish a large company could give it. The graphics and interface could be improved. What it does have is the vibrancy and intensity a dedicated man can give it. In an era where developers are pushed by corporate concerns, gamers – especially those interested in understudied topics – should embrace this game and use it as a model for the path our hobby should take.
Not sure what other wargames to look forward to this year? Check out our Wargamer’s Guide to 2017!