I think I often struggle with strategies and puzzles. I have trouble seeing “one step ahead.” I don’t know why that is. Perhaps I’m just not wired that way. Who knows? Point is, I usually suck at it. But one of my favorite games that I’ve been playing recently is exactly that. Empire: Total War is a 2009 PC game that’s a turn-based, strategical war game based on 18th century diplomacy and military tactics. When I first was able to download it off Steam last summer, I couldn’t wait to get into it! It’s so interesting!
It’s a fun mix of so many things! Military/battle tactics, diplomacy and trade, civilization management, and accurate weapons and soldier units for that time period. It’s like an in-depth game of Risk meets Civilization with great graphics! My favorite game mode on Empire, is the Road to Independence mode. In it, you are placed in the role of an American General, and tasked with leading the Thirteen Colonies to Independence and victory over the British Empire.
But you are given very little to start with. Just a ragtag group of Minutemen, and a base of operations in Boston, your only territory, and your capital. After that, it is up to you to learn the tactics of the game by mostly trial and error. Aside from a Bunker Hill tutorial showing how basic controls work, how you achieve victory is completely up to you. Some prefer trade and diplomacy while avoiding battle unless absolutely necessary. Others prefer to go headlong into battle and throw caution to the wind. But the goal remains the same regardless: Capture and hold 15 territories by the year 1825.
It’s daunting, and there’s a LOT to manage, but a lot of it seems to be common sense. Crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. How I achieve victory in the game is a ground-up approach. Before I even consider making serious attacks on British-held territories with my men, or before I execute any grand battle strategy, I try to boost my economy with trade, fair taxes, and upgrading farms, towns, schools, and any other kind of infrastructure. This boosts wealth, makes the citizens happy (and willing to fight), and helps grow your army and military technology. But at the heart of it all is a stable economy. A war costs a LOT of money, and before I fight it, I have to make sure I have a steady supply of money rolling in!
After that, I make sure my capital, Boston, is protected and fortified, as is every city I free from British rule. If you don’t have your cities protected with forts and walls, the British will engage you in battle, easily overpower you if you leave your cities exposed, and move in. And we can’t have the Union Jack flying in America, can we? 😉
The most fun part of the game comes from battle though. There is nothing like the realism of hearing cannons go off, seeing HUGE companies of men marching or running behind their generals, and seeing clouds of smoke and hearing musket fire! The tactics, and strengths and weaknesses of each soldier class are realistic for the time too!
I am still fairly basic at battles, but I’ve found strategies that work, and help me consistently win. And it comes from thinking like a General. Sure, charging in with bayonets fixed and skewering the enemy is cool. But in order to be successful, one needs to know which tactic to use, and which situation to use it in.
Before I even engage an enemy, I make sure I have even or greater numbers. I selectively pick my battles. But once I engage the enemy and march my troops to that location, I use flanking and pincer maneuvers a lot. Plus I use my cavalry to intimidate smaller groups of enemy troops, or I chase enemy troops down with cavalry once enemy lines break, and they retreat. This is where another extremely realistic part of the game comes into play: Soldier morale and war psychology.
This adds another neat layer to the game experience! If you know the basics of 18th century warfare and history, you’ll know how to play the game from this angle. The units and soldier classes behave like real men in certain battle situations! Some of the realistic things I found:
- Artillery is strong against mostly any other type of soldier class. For obvious reasons. Cannons are absolutely devastating when used correctly. But if you time things right, and charge them with cavalry or bayonets in between when they fire rounds, they’re extremely likely to turn and run! Imagine yourself being a soldier that helps load and fire cannons…and then you see hundreds of men charging at you, screaming with bayonets fixed, running at full speed. Or you see a lightning fast cavalry or Dragoon unit with their swords drawn, heading right for you on horseback. In a situation like that, I could see why many men would crap their pants, drop their muskets and run like hell!
- Flanking is a classic tactic, but it’s really useful! I usually use this method after I’ve already broken through enemy lines with several rounds of musket fire. But if flanking (going by the enemy on either side of their line) is used successfully, you’ll be able to easily engage an already shell shocked enemy in hand to hand combat. Or you’ll surround them on all sides, break their spirits, and either force them to retreat, or get wiped out!
- Cavalry units are extremely fast, and can cover more ground than the average company of infantry soldiers or Minutemen since they’re on horseback. But they’re not without their weaknesses. Cavalry may be good for cutting down retreating enemy soldiers, or for use as a psychological intimidation tactic. But when they’re fired on enough by artillery or musket fire, they’ll retreat.
- Once a company of troops has their spirit broken, and morale crushed, they retreat from the field. And after they’ve decided to retreat, there is absolutely NO commanding them to return to the battlefield. None. They’re not concerned with winning the battle for you anymore. They’re concerned about getting out alive in one piece!
- It’s rarely a good thing if you’re forced to fight your battles with armed, everyday citizens. If you don’t have a territory or region defended with professional soldiers (infantry, cavalry, etc.), and the enemy invades that territory, you’re left with “Firelock armed citizenry.” They’re ordinary people who haven’t been trained like other soldier classes. They’ll hold out for as long as they can. But their breaking point is far lower than the average trained soldier. Usually a cavalry charge, or bayonet charge will send them running for the hills. Sometimes even the threat of a charge or being fired upon, is enough to make them break ranks and run as well.
- The death of a general in battle, either yours or the enemy’s, has the potential to break an army’s spirits. Generals are usually on horseback, surrounded by bodyguards. The General’s Bodyguard unit acts like a cavalry. Although I only have them charge or fight once the battle is well in hand, or to finish off fleeing enemy troops. No use in putting them in danger. On the other side of things, if I see the battle is at a potential tipping point, I send cavalry units after the opposing General to kill him. Without leaders, armies crumble and chaos ensues.
- Sieges are effective at bringing down enemy numbers, and tipping the scales of a possible battle in your favor before you even take the field! During a siege on the map, your army basically surrounds the enemy territory for a number of turns (usually 3). The enemy then has two choices: Either surrender at the end of the three turns, or come out and attempt to fight you off. But the longer an army is under siege, their numbers drop. This seems realistic, as sieges were used in real-life warfare in the 18th century, and usually cities under siege were forced to surrender. They were “starved out.” Citizens usually couldn’t get food or water into or out of the city once an enemy army was surrounding it.
Okay, so you now know tactics on how to command an army and win battles. But winning the war against the English is a bit of a different beast. And just like in real history, you will need help from foreign nations to topple the Redcoats. This is where working for an advantageous diplomatic position, haggling, and occasionally kissing up to France, Spain and others will pay off in the long run.
At the start of the war, you’re already trading with France and Spain, and they’re friendly with you. As you grow in wealth, prestige, and rack up consistent victories against the Redcoats, France and Spain will be much more likely to join in the war if you ask them. Once you approach them, and if they agree to join you, your finances and soldier training/quality will take a BIG boost! From there, the Patriot war machine fires on all cylinders! All that’s left after that, and gaining control of all 13 colonies, is to decide whether to attack and capture the British territories in Canada, or attack and capture the Native American regions in the Ohio and Michigan Territories. Although it is much tougher to defeat the Native Americans than the British. The various tribes are often at war with one another, but they’re already unfriendly or flat out hostile to you…and if you attack one of them, you’ll find yourself getting attacked by ALL of them. Choose wisely!
If you do indeed win the war, a very neat victory video will play at the end. It always makes me smile, and feel patriotic!
Empire: Total War is an extremely unique, fun game. Although for those of you who play it or who might be interested in it, my only knock on it? It’s ADDICTING! Especially if you’re consistently winning, and conquering territories, no matter which nation you’re playing as. Moving troops, planning attacks, and winning battles is definitely time consuming, and requires patience. Plus you’ll often find yourself start playing, and two hours goes by like THAT. It’s a game you can become easily engrossed in and wrapped up in. But I would highly recommend it to anyone who is competitive, loves strategy, history, and government/civics. Definitely worth buying on Steam. Check it out here!
Now if you’ll excuse me… I’ve gotta go raise an army of Patriots, train them up, and take the fight to the Redcoats! MOVE ‘EM OUT!!!