Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Birth of America 2: mini review



Back again with another history lesson. The wargame I have been playing the most lately is still Birth of America 2, when I am not “killin’ Nazis” in Company of Heroes.

This game has a very attractive map, easy to learn play system, and really great historical detail that just sucks me in. Plus, while I am reading Almost A Miracle, I am really on a huge Revolutionary War kick.

Birth of America and its sequel at first struck me as odd wargames, but in time I have started to really like them. Despite the fact that the combat is a tad bit too abstract for me, I do like the way the game emphasizes command and structure. These two facets were key back in the day and Ageod, the makers of Birth of America, followed this idea up even better when they released Napoleon’s Campaigns.

When you look at BOA2 you notice that the map is not hexes but provinces. You will also notice that it is designed with great detail and looks great. I don’t want to turn this post into a review, but it is required to explain what you are looking at in terms of the units on the typical BOA2 map. The game harkens to the Stratego love in all of us, only it allows more movement and far greater depth. Each “unit” you see on the map is actually a container, within which are the actual regiments, supply wagons and other combatants. So picture it if you as a board game, on which are Stratego type markers. Each marker can be moved to other provinces, and each represents an army. Pretend if you will that on the side of the game board you have a cardboard mat upon which the contents of the board containers are actually placed.

You are allowed to move the contents of the containers to other contents and change the strength of the on board markers at will. Each container, usually a general, can only command a certain amount of troops. So you have to spend some time in the game shuffling who commands what and trying to avoid command penalties.

That is the most base description I can give about the game, and suffice it to say that is not detailing the little rules you must know to get ahead in the game. I just wanted to point out what the map markers went because when you first look at it all one sees is the images of famous generals and no military units. Luckily, by clicking on a map marker (or Troop Display Marker), you can see all the units attached to it at the bottom of the screen. This took me a while to get used to as I was coming off of being a straight hex warfare guy.

So the battle I picked to do my first learning game of Birth of America 2 was the Pequot Wars of 1638. This is a small 8 turn scenario in a very small section of the map that is fast and simple to play. This scenario centers on a very unknown war that was fought between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies against the Pequot tribe. The cause of conflict centered around escalating violence between native american tribes and colonist traders who were kidnapping, plundering and basically making a mess of things. The Pequot were attacking other Indian traders who were friendly to the Dutch in 1633 and this only set the stage for later violence. Tensions came to a head on July 20, 1636, when a respected trader named John Oldham was attacked on a trading voyage to Block Island. One thing to remember about Birth of America 2 is its tagline, which is Wars in America. This game covers EVERYTHING that helped shaped this nation, all the way through 1815. Quite an extensive amount of battles and all them are meticulously researched.

BOA2 uses a simple simultaneous turn resolution system, and because of this you have to think ahead since you never know when, during the turn processing, you may bump into the enemy or stumble upon a large force. You plot your moves, and then end the turn and watch the events unfold for 30 days. Each turn is indeed one month, so careful thought about where to move and how to get there comes into play. You can plot the movement of a unit province by province if you want, but each move adds to the amount of time it will take to get to the final destination. All of this makes for a pretty realistic simulation of command and control back in the day, since you never really knew exactly where enemy units were or the size of the combatants. There is a built in detection and hide mechanic in the game too, so it is quite possible that two units can be in the same province and skirt by each other. The Native American units have really good hide values and can even be put in ambush mode in a province to await an enemy force to pass through so they can attack with bonuses.

Last but not least, leaders are crucial in this game. Many have special abilities, as noted by cool symbols on their markers, and can really help to turn the tide of battle and provide combat bonuses. Since leaders can only control a certain amount of units in there “container” you really have to balance the size of your armies and watch their supply and overall cohesion. Move them too much, leave them in the wilderness and cut off, or make the force so large it has communication break downs and you will take casualties as well as perform horribly in combat.

Provinces in the game are also controlled by one side or the other, and you have to work to flip a territory over. Once you do, supply can pass through there and it makes your advance much easier.

Combat is played out in 6 rounds a day. Since one turn is 30 days, you could imagine that some battles, much like real warfare back then, could extend 7-12 days or more. The initial range is determined by terrain and the type of units involved, and then each round the range decreases by one until the combat turns to hand to hand. You do not actually see this on the screen, and this is where the game may be a let down for some. Instead all the factors are done behind the scenes and a battle wheel is show on the screen to represent the flow of that round. Once the conflict is over a summary screen appears declaring the final victor. This summary screen is the meat and potatoes of the combat system Look it over closely and you can see exactly what happened through the use of symbols, numbers and hovering the mouse over the various parts of the screen. Below is a very small battle fought between two Native forces. All units have stats that determine at what range they opened fire, how much damage they can do if they hit, and how good they are in assault combat. The basic rule of the game is get units that have more range than your opponent, have good leaders, and attack smartly.

That is all for the small overview today. Later on this month I will post a more in depth report of the game as I play it and then hopefully people can see how much this unique strategy game is. The great thing is Ageod has used this engine in their Napoleon game as well as their award winning Civil War game so I know that I have plenty of great wargaming around the bend in the future.