Reviews: CD ROMs


Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition

Western Civilization Software. Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition.  Published by Matrix Games, 2009. $49.99

Introduction

Although war games have been used by professional soldiers for as long as professional militaries have existed, it is traditional for historians to use narrative as the primary method for examining and analyzing past events.  Narrative and counter-narrative remain the prevailing methods for exploring the sequence and contingency of past events and in most attempts to investigate patterns of cause and effect that shaped past events.  Given the one-time nature of the unfolding of history, in reality, no history other than that which has transpired can ever be ascertained with absolute certainty; consequently, any analysis of historical cause and effect will always constitute a probabilistic argument, in which final conclusions are primarily dependent on the achievement of consensus among scholars, based on available information and the combined reasoning powers of a research community.

Nonetheless, one might argue that the exploration of historical "what ifs" is for many lay persons and scholars alike, the most enthralling aspect of history.  We find ourselves privileged to live in an era when advances in personal computers, and the growth of a computer-based strategy war gaming industry facilitates exploration of historical "what ifs" in new ─and as they say, "addictive"─ ways.

This review introduces a new computer-based strategy war game, released earlier this year, that may well be of particular interest to members of the Napoleonic community, "Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition" (CoG:EE).  The game covers a variety of short "scenarios" and longer "campaigns" occurring between 1792 and 1820 in Europe, North Africa and western Russia, and involves all of the European and Eurasian powers of the era.  CoG:EE is the second edition in a series of Napoleonic era war games produced by [url=http://www.west-civ.com/COG:EE/COG:EE_Index.html]Western Civilization Software[/url], the first edition of the game being simply "Crown of Glory."  COG:EE is published by the award-winning war gaming publisher [url=http://www.matrixgames.com/]Matrix Games[/url] which produces and sells a variety of strategic war games that simulate various historical conflicts ranging from the ancient world, to the twentieth century.

Exploring History in Strategy Games

To a limited extent, narrative and logic afford some capacity to compare and contrast alternative models of cause and effect or alternative contingencies (e.g., "what if" Prussia and Austria had actively allied against Napoleon in 1805?), but the higher degrees of certainty afforded in disciplines where experimentation and simulation are commonly used (e.g., psychology, physics, marketing, or nutrition) remains largely elusive for the pure study of history.

Computer-based strategic war games have created a fascinating alternative method for exploring the history of the Napoleonic Age which, though it could never eclipse, let alone replace careful documentation and detailed narrative analyses, may at least provide enjoyable and invigorating new ways to stimulate historical debates and as such, potentially novel insights about historical contingency and cause-and-effect.  Such games may be unfamiliar to most historians and so one of the primary purposes in writing this review is simply to inform about the existence and nature of such games.

As amateur enthusiasts, our insights are primarily from the perspective of 'gamers,' enthusiasts of strategy war games and military history.  As such, we will ask that our readers indulge our perhaps relatively meager expertise in the Napoleonic era, at least for the sake of learning more about what strategic war games may offer to the period expert in the form of fun and inspiration, if not scholarly insight.  We do not wish to suggest that computer games constitute an impending revolution in methods of investigation for communities with shared interest in historical topics, let alone for professional historical research.  The more modest goal is to inform members of the Napoleon Series community about the "Crown of Glory: Emperor's Edition" game as a resource in which they may find both entertainment and enlightenment, to point out strengths and weaknesses of the COG:EE and to foster cross-fertilization of ideas and community-interaction between the [url=http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tt.asp?forumid=630]COG:EE fan community[/url] and the Napoleon Series community.

As one indicator of the games merits for the exploration of military history, it can be pointed out that the original Crown of Glory game, was used at West Point to train cadets in matters of strategy and tactics.  The COG series of games is the result of enormous amounts of research into politics, economics, general history, naval and land tactics, etc., by the designers and their fans.

Overview of Game Scope and Design

For a historical period as dynamic, and revolutionary as the Napoleonic era, there must be thousands of compelling "what if" questions at multiple levels ranging from those of battlefield tactics to foreign policy to theatre level military operations to issues of national strategy, culture and will-to-fight;  COG:EE offers the enthusiast the opportunity to explore such "what ifs" at all of these levels.  The game is a turn-based system that simulates both national level, and tactical battlefield events.  Players can assume control of any of the major powers of the era (France, England, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Turkey) and all the minor kingdoms and protectorates of the era are represented as well.  Two to eight players can compete against one another through "play-by-email" (PBEM) games in which each player takes his turn and then emails a .sav file on to the next player.  Alternatively, one can play against the "artificial intelligence" (AI), meaning play against the computer.  COG:EE has one of the better AIs to be found in contemporary strategic computer-based war games, and in COG:EE the computer-opponent can prove to be a challenging rival for even the most seasoned of gamers.  Online streaming videos that offer detailed insights into the game are available to view at a [url=http://www.matrixgames.com/products/366/videos/Crown.of.Glory:.Emperor's]Matrix Games COG:EE Videos[/url] page.

In the main game screen, Europe, Eurasia and North Africa are represented in a beautifully rendered map abstracted into "provinces" each with a capital city.  While the basic map of the entire European region is visible at all times, details for remote areas beyond the players control often remain opaque by "fog of war" (meaning that details for troop distributions, city infrastructure, etc. may not be visible).  The entire map is divided into major regions each with a single city or town.  A large set of screen-caps, showing the appearance of the game are available at a  [url=http://www.matrixgames.com/products/366/screenshots/Crown.of.Glory:.Emperor%E2%80%99s.Edition]Matrix Games COG:EE Screen-Caps[/url] page.

National dominion is represented as control of individual provinces, and the limited ability to regulate and use provinces resource bases (population, industry, natural resources) as part of the national resource pool.  Players must make decisions about building of infrastructure in specific provinces, mustering of new military units, building of ships, and national level strategic policy, as well as diplomacy, treaties and military organization and operations.  The challenges a player will face in orchestrating various facets of national strategy and production with military mobilization and training, logistics and diplomacy may offer insights into the difficulties faced by the leaders of the era.  It is thus conceivable that the game could contribute to fresh thinking or even new approaches to the study of the period.

By "paying" with resources and/or money, players can build additional infrastructure in provinces which have a variety of effects on national and local level processes and events.  For example, construction of "Docks" improves naval quality and naval construction capacity, whereas construction of "Courts" improves diplomatic and cultural dimensions of the nation.  In this way, a player can choose to follow closely the national domestic policies of the historical figure he/she is 'portraying' in the game, or to follow very different national strategic paths.  For example one could, while playing France ─and despite the intrinsic advantages enjoyed by the English Royal Navy─ attempt to build a navy to challenge English domination of the seas.  Military and political "units" in the game are also "built" (meaning recruited, trained, mustered and/or marshaled) at specific towns. Infrastructure has a strong influence on the quantity, quality and speed of production of such units, and thus, a wise and balanced pattern of national improvement coordinated with economic constraints, and military demands are all issues that a player must effectively master.

During each month-long turn, a player can move his units on the map, engage in trade deals with other nations, build infrastructure, propose treaties, and engage in a wide-range of in-game actions that are satisfying, if not wholly realistic, abstractions of the actual national policy decisions and actions that would have been available to leaders of the time.  Decisions always have to be weighed in terms of their costs and benefits, with these being abstracted in terms of national economic parameters, national morale, and the availability of a variety of resources with important strategic impacts (iron, wool, cotton, foods, wines, spices, etc.) as well as the implications for military victory and defeat.  During times of war, battles ─including naval engagements─ can occur between a player's military units and those of enemy nations/kingdoms whenever they occupy the same province.

Battles can be conducted using three different systems of resolution.  An "Instant Combat" option exists for those who do not wish to exert any influence on specific battlefield tactics, and leave the resolution of combat up to a series of mathematical calculations that compare combatant numbers, quality, training levels, morale, equipment, terrain effects, and military leaders in each force.  A "Quick Combat" mode involves the opportunity for the player to place some general influence on the battlefield tactics, and lastly a "Detailed Combat" mode allows players to explore battles in exceptionally detailed hex-maps in which armies can be represented as individual brigades.  This aspect of CoG:EE, the seamless integration of an engine for simulating national-level events with a tactical battlefield engine is one of the most innovative and exciting and sets the game apart from most contemporary games in the same genre.

It must be remembered that COG:EE is a game, and that it consequently operates within the parameters that designers can technically utilize; historical realities therefore must be abstracted or simplified in many instances and even in some instances 'fudged' for the sake of playability.  But for anyone with even a passing interest in strategy games, and the period in question, COG:EE is sure to offer hours of engrossing play and entertainment.  A related point that readers who are unfamiliar with such games will want to note: games like CoG:EE have quite steep learning curves, and can require a good deal of time and effort to understand much less master.  The details covered in this review are only the tip of a very large and complicated 'iceberg;' readers who expect a game as simplified as say "Risk" or common board games like "Monopoly" should be aware that CoG:EE is a truly complicated, demanding game.  With the exception of short scenarios, finishing, much less "winning" a match may take dozens or even hundreds of hours of play.  For many gamers, it seems to be the sheer challenge of learning to play games like these which constitutes a major portion of the allure, and one might suspect the same would be true of non-gamer period enthusiasts and historians as well.

Military Organization and Management

As Crown of Glory – Empire Edition (CoG:EE) is a truly strategic game; the selection of unit scale was vital to impart the appropriate period flavor and span of control for the player.  The designers opted for the Division as the fundamental land unit and the individual warship for navies.  Divisions and warships are organized into larger hierarchical units (Corps, Armies, and Fleets).  This ability for the player to adopt a variety of military organizations is another of the innovative and engrossing features of the game which also sets it apart from other contemporary strategy games.  What follows is an outline of the game system in use to organize and manage land forces, though many of the same general principles are applicable to naval forces as well.

There are ten different types of infantry divisions, six types of cavalry and four types of artillery that can be built.  Some are unique to certain countries (Ottoman Nizam-i-Cedid heavy infantry for example) while others require specific upgrade technology before they can be built.  An artificial cap is imposed to limit the absolute numbers of military units any nation can support and although this value is subjective and fixed at the start of play, it appears historically reasonable and in any event, can be modified by the player before starting a scenario.

Infantry divisions generally consist of 10,000 men while cavalry and artillery show less manpower but use greater numbers of horses and other relatively scarce resources such as iron and textiles.  At first sight, the artillery 'divisions' do not really conform to any particular Napoleonic artillery grouping but the inclusion of this unit fits nicely into the organizational model created for the game system as will be seen below.  The basic divisional manpower strength can vary widely due to economic factors and operational attrition and so after any campaigning, full strength units will become the exception.  Although the generic division might seem something of an amorphous blob initially, the unit attributes can be greatly modified by acquiring technical and doctrinal upgrades so each national army soon displays entirely unique characteristics and abilities.  In addition to upgrades that have a 'global' effect for the player, each division can acquire certain special abilities and over time most may become quite distinctive from other divisions.

In CoG:EE, the division provides the foundation for the land forces but not all nations in the era actually employed an official divisional formation so the designers have taken some historical liberties but the overall effect subjectively 'feels' right for the period.  Divisions by themselves have only limited utility; the actual arbiter of land warfare is the Army and the Army Corps (Corps hereafter).  These formations require time and resources to build and are created in a manner similar to divisions.  However, they act as 'containers' for divisions and are described as such in the rules.  To one familiar with the hierarchical nature of armies this term seems awkward and counter-intuitive at first but once the system is understood it quickly displays a simplicity and elegance that can nicely recreate the armies of the era.  One might think of these 'containers' as the administrative and logistics tails that followed armies in the field since the earliest days of warfare but had become far more organized and extensive in the late 17th and throughout the 18th Centuries.  The abstraction of the administrative and support components of large military groups is one of the examples where the game may diverge from real history in non-trivial ways, which nonetheless seem satisfactory as a way to strike a balance between playability and realistic representation of historical dynamics.

Army units have greater administrative capacity, and thus can 'contain' more sub-units (divisions and corps).  An Army can 'contain' up to eight units, these can be divisions, Corps or a combination thereof up to a total of 18 divisions (a theoretical total of some 180,000 men).  A Corps may contain up to six divisions in any combination but these values can be modified by specific upgrades and the French have a slight organizational advantage in this area.  Some of the aspects of this system are subtle and profound at the same time.  For example, Armies are cheaper to build than Corps and so one of the net effects of this is it is easier to build a profusion of Army containers but these can be at a disadvantage when at war with an opponent who has spent the resources to build Corps and concentrate combat power accordingly.  Thus, the player can be naturally encouraged to recreate Napoleonic style campaigns and is likely to find that attempting post Industrial Age strategies will be unsuccessful or even impossible.

Another advantage of the container system is that Armies and Corps can be tailored for specific roles and can be very effective when units are combined in a historically reasonable proportion.    Thus an Army of six infantry and one each cavalry and artillery will be more effective (other things being equal) than one composed entirely of infantry, cavalry or (heaven forbid) artillery.  Likewise with Corps, either independent or those administrated as part of an Army container, the system rewards building Napoleonic style combined arms formations without micromanaging rules or artificial organizational constraints.  This is where the Artillery "divisions" fit, the concept of independent Corps artillery under centralized control which was such a significant gunnery reform that greatly improved the effectiveness of the field artillery during this period.  The astute player will likely discover this and even without prior detailed knowledge of the era tend to create Armies and Corps that are entirely reasonable for the period instinctively and because they are what is most effective, not because the rules say to do so.

Conclusion

Perhaps the greatest benefit to be gained from playing a game like COG:EE is in the overall 'feeling' of being immersed in the period, beyond that which can be achieved from books, or other media (e.g., music, art, cinema).  As one fan writes "When I was a teen and in high school, when geography and history were the most boring things in the world to me, Avalon Hill came along and with games like Third Reich, War and Peace, Guns of August, and Caesar's Legions made me learn geography the fun way.  These games made me interested enough in these events to go out and buy books on them!  Then, I was able to compare the gaming experience to what happened historically.  That is where the greatest value of these games lies."

The value of any computer game simulation is always limited by the inability for any game to fully represent all the factors involved in real history.  One example is the games inability to accurately portray the real events of the Spanish campaign.  For example, there is no way to place "your brother" on the Spanish throne as Napoleon did, which may well be what turned the war into such a disaster for Napoleon.  The requirement to declare a "Total War" to cause the type of guerilla warfare seen in the campaign also seems a bit off. Overall the games mechanisms do not work so well in this instance, but there is so much to redeem the game that this is not so much a fatal flaw, as it is simply a common theme among strategic war games: it is a challenge for designers to create compelling games that represent the main strategic and tactical factors salient during a period, but it remains essentially impossible to create simulations that precisely represent all things that may have influenced history.

In the words of another fan "I think the game does a pretty good job in certain places of showing why Napoleon's megalomaniacal overreaches were just that. If a normal person doesn't exhibit that kind of madness it can be difficult to lose some scenarios as France."  No computer game is perfect, and there are definitely more things that could have been included, or slight issues that might not suit all opinions.  But to these reviewers, this is not what distinguishes a good game from a great game like CoG:EE.  For players who stick to a realistic and historically accurate style of play, even matches against the AI are likely to provide a compelling recreation of an alternative Napoleonic history.  Depending on their temperament, the individual scholar may be skeptical or intrigued, but anyone who enjoys a complicated strategy game is liable to have a lot of fun.  Because of their complexity, and the need for some degree of suspension of disbelieve, games like CoG:EE are certainly not for everyone.  However, as one of the best examples of this genre of game, it may well be worth a try for those who have an interest in the period.  

CoG:EE installs seamlessly, it runs beautifully, it has good to excellent documentation, and on the [url=http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tt.asp?forumid=630]Matrix Forums[/url] one can both chit-chat with the designers, and become part of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable community of fans.  Matrix is one of the best consumer experiences a computer gamer can have, and the game is the epitome of "strategy war game." CoG:EE is not an example of the real-time strategy graphics-fest games posing as strategy war games which have become more and more common on the gaming market.  CoG:EE is a balanced, intriguing, subtle, artistically-satisfying, historically-accurate-enough, challenging, easy-to-learn/hard-to-master game: in short, a work of art.  In contrast to some larger game companies which seem to strive for maximum market penetration among younger gamers who are less interested in strategy and more interested in beguiling graphics, WCS is not a producer of flash-in-the-pan sequels that show all the signs of massive capital backing, but limited vision, integration, realism and coherency.  CoG:EE is a product of inspiration, hard work, team work, vision, and dedication.  So if you are a Napoleon era fan or expert and you have a little time, even if you've never played a computer strategy game, check out CoG:EE, it is one of the best in its genre and you are likely to have a lot of fun!

Contacts: Matrix Games and Western Civilization Software

Reviewed by Seamus Decker and Chris Comars

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2009

 

Reviews Index | CDRom Index ]



© 1995 - 2009, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]