Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Command and (Out of) Control: HPS Sims' Ancient Warfare Series

Something different today, folks. Not only hexes and turns, but also a period of warfare I haven't visited in years. 

I heard a lot about the Ancient Warfare series from HPS Simulations, but never actually had enough encouragement to try it. My friend Javier, who refuses to read my blog (will do when you post something about ancient or medieval warfare, he says), has always insisted that I should try it.

So here I am, liking this engine a lot, and disliking Javier's repeated "told you so!" grin.

For starters, I should warn you that neither eye candy nor a self-explanatory user interface are the series forte. The graphics are functional but rather basic and the interface is a rare mix of standard Windows elements with some sporadic more artistic nuggets. These two are never a deal breaker for me, but keep them in mind if you are going to purchase.

My first battle was the "getting started" scenario (an HPS Sims staple in almost all of their games). Quite simple setup: a Roman Republican force with a healthy mix of skirmishers, heavy infantry and both light and heavy cavalry is attacking a hill held by German forces.

The AI (Germans in this case) is running circles around me by just waiting with its infantry up in the hill. There is no way to lure them down the hill ... They know that sending down their skirmishers is enough to keep me busy in the low land!

Anyway, here are some screenshots of the command and control features of the game that impressed me quite a bit.

Right click and open in a new tab for a better view. This is just how the game looks like, with a couple of windows open for shows. From what I read in the manual, the game rules for combat and movement are quite elaborate.
Right click and open in a new tab for a better view. This is the left flank of my battle line. Thirty of my equites (center, hex outlined in red) have decided all by themselves (i.e. I didn't give them an order to do so) to charge the German skirmishers that were on front of them. My fault: if I didn't want such a thing I should have ordered them to hold. 
Right click and open in a new tab for a better view. This is my right flank. It was supposed to be guarded by medium cavalry (Italian Allied Cavalry) and here I really wanted them to charge con gusto and in force. Although some of them did, most of my medium cavalry (one of the units has an hex outlined in red) remained in place. The problem? Inspired by stories about sweeping battlefield maneuvers on the battlefield, I decided to move my Triarii through my right flank and break with them towards the hill. What a fool! I ended up disrupting them and the formations they went through ... The dense columns also blocked the visual field of view of my Italian Allied Cavalry (field of view is highlighted in the screenshot above) and thus they don't have a compelling reason to charge anything.
Not only I am liking how difficult is to command troops in the middle of battle (units can go out of command while engaged) but also how I have to keep an eye on shaping the battlefield so all my troops something remotely similar to what I want them to.



Doug Miller said...

Very cool to see you playing these JC. Ancients and Middle Ages armies are quite the different beasts than WWII and modern. It always frustrates me no end when I forget and move troops through formed horsemen and end up with a disordered mess and my charge stopped before it started!

Tiller's Renaissance has similar rules, but with the introduction of gunpowder weapons. Also a treat if you haven't played it!

Anonymous said...

Been interested in this series myself..

Erich said...

Just remember to bring a monster rig. Despite the crudity of the graphics, this thing must have been written in compiled BASIC or something, because even just clicking on a unit causes quite a long delay until the game recognizes what you've done.

The little window that shows the unit characteristics then slowly refreshes (I can't recall seeing anything that slow since maybe 1992).

When you consider that no calculations of any sort are taking place (this is in the orders phase, and the game is simply retrieving a few lines of text plus rudimentary graphics), I think I'm safe in saying that the game could use some optimization.

Erich said...

This is on a Core i5-460m (Dual core 2.8Ghz), just for reference. Not state of the art, but should be overkill (if anything) for this sort of wargame...

JC said...

Hi Erich,

That's strange. It works fine for me so far. Your specs should be more than enough (?!).